Sometimes I come upon a poem that perfectly reflects what I’m feeling, but I could never have expressed it so beautifully. This one is by the wise, kind, and eloquent Naomi Shihab Nye. I have met Naomi a few times, and we’ve had an ongoing email correspondence for more than a decade, so I think of her as a friend…especially when her words reach my heart as these do:
Crisscrossing watery tumble of sound
soothing summer drought
still they find one another not sky
nor another parched night
can separate or silence them
You saw your mother
running down stairs in a dream
Would you follow her?
Absence makes no sense
You’re more present than the men I see
tell me anything
What you wanted and didn’t get
Is it eased now?
space in a drawer
empty hangers clattering
field of mind shimmers
what never arrived
keeps us walking everywhere
we have to
bow down to what you planted
glossy figs filling bowls
sweetest rebuke to battle and bomb
all the ruins humans make
I’m open for clues slip of straw in a beak
crane high in a tree
wing unfurled to shade her young
The poem is from her book, Transfer, published in 2011 by BOA Editions. The title refers to all the different kinds of transfers we make in our lives from one stage of our lives to another, but the book was written in the aftermath of the death of her beloved father, Azis Shihab, and the poems are very much about love and grief.
“Missing him contains memories so intense I don’t know how I will continue,” she has written. I understand. Tomorrow will mark thirty-seven years since my father died, and the yearning has never left me. It will also be my first October 12 without my mother in the world.
And yet, as Naomi says in another beautiful poem:
There’s a way not to be broken
that takes brokenness to find it.
I’m not always sure how that works, but I believe it.
(And here I am with Naomi!)