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Naomi Shihab Nye “In the current literary scene,” the late William Stafford wrote, “one of the most heartening influences is the work of Naomi Shihab Nye.” Nye lives in San Antonio with her husband, photographer Michael Nye, and their son. Her books include You & Yours, Going Going, A Maze Me, 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (a National Book Award finalist), Come with Me: Poems for a Journey, Fuel, Red Suitcase, and Habibi, a novel for teens that won six “best book” awards. Nye’s picture books include Sitti’s Secrets and Baby Radar. She has edited seven anthologies of poetry for young readers, including This Same Sky, The Tree Is Older than You Are, The Space between Our Footsteps: Poems & Paintings from the Middle East, What Have You Lost? and Salting the Ocean. A visiting writer all over the world for many years, she has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Library of Congress Witter Bynner Fellow. Different Ways to Pray There was the method of kneeling, a fine method, if you lived in a country where stones were smooth. The women dreamed wistfully of bleached courtyards, hidden corners where knee fit rock. Their prayers were weathered rib bones, small calcium words uttered in sequence, as if this shedding of syllables could somehow fuse them to the sky. There were the men who had been shepherds so long they walked like sheep. Under the olive trees, they raised their arms— Hear us! We have pain on earth! 253 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 253 We have so much pain there is no place to store it! But the olives bobbed peacefully in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme. At night the men ate heartily, flat bread and white cheese, and were happy in spite of the pain, because there was also happiness. Some prized the pilgrimage, wrapping themselves in new white linen to ride buses across miles of vacant sand. When they arrived at Mecca they would circle the holy places, on foot, many times, they would bend to kiss the earth and return, their lean faces housing mystery. While for certain cousins and grandmothers the pilgrimage occurred daily, lugging water from the spring or balancing the baskets of grapes. These were the ones present at births, humming quietly to perspiring mothers. The ones stitching intricate needlework into children’s dresses, forgetting how easily children soil clothes. There were those who didn’t care about praying. The young ones. The ones who had been to America. They told the old ones, you are wasting your time. Time?—The old ones prayed for the young ones. They prayed for Allah to mend their brains, for the twig, the round moon, to speak suddenly in a commanding tone. 254 Naomi Shihab Nye 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 254 And occasionally there would be one who did none of this, the old man Fowzi, for example, Fowzi the fool, who beat everyone at dominoes, insisted he spoke with God as he spoke with goats, and was famous for his laugh. Naomi Shihab Nye 255 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 255 The Art of Disappearing When they say Don’t I know you? say no. When they invite you to the party remember what parties are like before answering. Someone telling you in a loud voice they once wrote a poem. Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate. Then reply. If they say We should get together say why? It’s not that you don’t love them anymore. You’re trying to remember something too important to forget. Trees. The monastery bell at twilight. Tell them you have a new project. It will never be finished. When someone recognizes you in a grocery store nod briefly and become a cabbage. When someone you haven’t seen in ten years appears at the door, don’t start singing him all your new songs. You will never catch up. Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time. 256 Naomi Shihab Nye 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 256 Famous The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so. The cat sleeping on the fence...


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