If I write a letter, how will I make it long enough?

I could probably fill the entire month of April with poems by the lovely Naomi Shihab Nye (1952-), whose work continually comforts and delights me.

“Spruce Street, Berkeley”

If a street is named for a tree, 
it is right that flowers
bloom purple and feel like cats,
that people are leaves drifting
downhill in morning fog.

Everyone came outside to see
the moon setting like a perfect
orange mouth tipped up to heaven.

Now the cars sleep against curbs. 
If I write a letter,
how will I make it long enough?

There is a place to stand
where you can see so many lights
you forget you are one of them. 


you lived around the edge of everything we did

This month would not be complete if I did not post something from Naomi Shihab Nye (1952- ), who has always been one of my absolute favorite poets. Today’s piece comes from her newest collection, Transfer, a beautiful, book-length elegy for her father.


We are looking for your laugh.
Trying to find the path back to it
between drooping trees.
Listening for your rustle
under bamboo,
brush of fig leaves,
feeling your step
on the porch,
natty lantana blossom
poked into your buttonhole.
We see your raised face
at both sides of a day.
How was it, you lived around
the edge of everything we did,
seasons of ailing & growing,
mountains of laundry & mail?
I am looking for you first & last
in the dark places,
when I turn my face away
from headlines at dawn,
dropping the rolled news to the floor.
Your rumble of calm
poured into me.
There was the saving grace
of care, from day one, the watching
and being watched
from every corner of the yard.

something inside us is a stone bigger than moving

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day. What words have you been carrying around today? I’ve been dispersing all sorts of verse, but this gem from an all-time favorite poet of mine, Naomi Shihab Nye (1952-), is the one I want to share with you all.

“The Tunnel of Questions”

What’s been going on?
Gene asked Rusty at the reunion.
Rusty answered, I’m sorry sir,
but you’ll have to be more specific,
which made the sky between us light up
like the best answer lights the mouth
of the boy who speaks it. His classmates
stare in awe. How did he know?
We cannot say what is going on,
or what we want to be when we grow up,
just as we cannot grow up.

I held rupees in my hand.
The Abu Dhabi airport is shaped like a mushroom.
He purchased a house with thick stone walls.
All the time my friend was dying,
she said a carved owl spoke to her.
The last letter—“I still have hope,
that’s something you don’t lose”—
has burrowed a tunnel inside my throat.
Questions live there. As for hope,
something inside us is a stone
bigger than moving, and the question is
how to love it.

Last summer a bull escaped from the stockyards,
clattered down Main Street looking for grass.
He found some. Bounded away again when the truck came
with pistols and nets, and all the old men
who pass by draping beat-up coats over their arms,
lugging sacks of crushed soda cans,
felt a little cry come out of their own tunnels
when the truck caught up with the bull
on the Salvation Army steps.
He didn’t get away.
Could he have gotten away?

The days which are brothers to us
pump their blood back and forth,
not telling. A man crosses a street,
using his shadow as an oar. And still
we want to go places, saying if we lived in Portugal, we could eat
white beans and shrimp,
bury our faces in vats of orange petals.
Or Paris—visiting the flower market
every day might change things,
the questions grow different bodies,
fluting out of themselves into yellow crowns
on slim green stalks. And the days you felt
the questions open into boats
and drift, leaving you
like some bridge or umbrella-table, firm?
That was the day you walked like a free man or woman nodding your head
and said whatever had to be done,
you could do it.