July 26, 2004
I just read Eye to Eye, a poem about Palestinian life by Gihad Ali, in subzero blue. I admire its directness, but I'm frustrated by its assumption that the American reader is inherently incapable of understanding the Palestinian who speaks. It made me want to post this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, which I read yesterday in her limited-edition chapbook cross that line:
Amir & Anna
"It's unbelievable, this cycle of violence, and how
neither party realizes they're both losing."
Dr. Cairo Arafat, West Bank
Amir can't sleep.
He dives under his bed.
Anna is afraid of everything.
Parked cars, moving buses.
Anna is afraid of toast.
Their names begin with "A",
contain the same number of letters.
They live one mile apart.
No one has given them
what they deserve.
Around both their houses,
all the Arab and Jewish houses,
red poppies sleep beneath
dirt and stones.
What do they know?
In March green spokes with fluttering heads
sprung by the secret spool of time
rise and rise on every side.
-- Naomi Shihab Nye
To me the most powerful line in this poem may be "Anna is afraid of toast." It took me a minute, but then I remembered the sound of a toaster popping, and it made me want to cry.
I love this little poem: its subtlety, its deftness, its profound and essential empathy for the suffering of both sides. Naomi continues to be one of my role models, both as a poet and as a friend.