Letters swallow themselves in seconds. Notes friends tied to the doorknob, transparent scarlet paper, sizzle like moth wings, marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable, lists of vegetables, partial poems. Orange swirling flame of days, so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t, an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space. I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves, only the things I didn’t do crackle after the blazing dies.
By Naomi Shihab Nye
A true Arab knows how to catch a fly in his hands,” my father would say. And he’d prove it, cupping the buzzer instantly while the host with the swatter stared.
In the spring our palms peeled like snakes. True Arabs believed watermelon could heal fifty ways. I changed these to fit the occasion.
Years before, a girl knocked, wanted to see the Arab. I said we didn’t have one. After that, my father told me who he was, “Shihab”—“shooting star”— a good name, borrowed from the sky. Once I said, “When we die, we give it back?” He said that’s what a true Arab would say.
Today the headlines clot in my blood. A little Palestinian dangles a truck on the front page. Homeless fig, this tragedy with a terrible root is too big for us. What flag can we wave? I wave the flag of stone and seed, table mat stitched in blue.
I call my father, we talk around the news. It is too much for him, neither of his two languages can reach it. I drive into the country to find sheep, cows, to plead with the air: Who calls anyone civilized? Where can the crying heart graze? What does a true Arab do now?
She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightlest bondage made aware.
I have used this time at home to continue the purge of belongings I began 10 years ago. There is something healthy about going from 3,000 square feet to 710 square feet of living space. It puts a premium on prioritizing what belongings have value. In cleaning out my garage this week, I came across the REI six man tent that was my car camp tent when my children were small. It accompanied us on many adventures. It is now 30 years old and despite multiple attempts at re-water proofing the fly, the last few times it has been used it has proven disappointing in its ability to function as a tent should. It also is bigger than I need now and weighs more than I want for hiking, so I decided it was time to part ways. I ran a CL list ad basically giving it away to a family as a kid fort in the back yard, to serve as some outdoor summer fun. I had an immediate response and it has found a better home where I hope it can create for another child some of the memories I have of the family tent as a fort in the back yard for daytime adventures and the occasional fair weather sleep over with a friend.
It is surprising to me there are not more poems written with tents as a metaphor for something grand and mystical. But then I have to remind myself that those of us that have been lucky enough to grow up with tents as part of their summer adventures are not in the majority, too many families either weren’t capable of vacations or parents ideas of vacations did not include biting insects, sand in your underwear and burned hot dogs over a fire. I am so grateful my parents did.
Do you have a favorite memory regarding a tent? What’s happened to your family tent? Is it still serviceable? Do you have plans to use it or is it time to let it find a new home and another purpose?
by Naomi Shihab Nye – 1952
When did hordes of sentences start beginning with So?
As if everything were always pending,
leaning on what came before.
What can you expect?
Loneliness everywhere, entertained or kept in storage.
So you felt anxious to be alone.
Easier to hear, explore a city, room,
mound of hours, no one walking beside you.
Talking to self endlessly, but mostly listening.
This would not be strange.
It would be the tent you slept in.
Waking calmly inside whatever
you had to do would be freedom.
It would be your country.
The men in front of me had whole acres
in their eyes. I could feel them cross, recross each day.
Memory, stitched. History, soothed.
What we do or might prefer to do. Have done.
How we got here. Telling ourselves a story
till it’s compact enough to bear.
Passing the walls, wearing the sky,
the slight bow and rising of trees.
Everything ceaselessly holding us close.
So we are accompanied.
Never cast out without a line of language to reel us back.
That is what happened, how I got here.
So maybe. One way anyway.
A story was sewn, seed sown,
this was what patriotism meant to me—
to be at home inside my own head long enough
to accept its infinite freedom
and move forward anywhere, to mysteries coming.
Even at night in a desert, temperatures plummet,
billowing tent flaps murmur to one other.