Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Naomi Shihab Nye

Biography of an Armenian Schoolgirl

I have lived in the room of stone where voices become
bones buried under us long ago. Where you dig
for centuries uncovering the same sweet dust.

My hands dream crescent-shaped cakes,
trapped moons on a narrow veined earth.
All day I am studying my hands—I am giving them new things to hold.

Travel, I say. They become boats.
Go—the bird squirms to detach from the arm.
Across the courtyards, a radio rises up and explodes.

What is the history of Europe to us if we cannot choose our own husbands?
Yesterday my father met with the widower, the man with no hair.
How will I sleep with him, I who have never slept away from my mother?

Once I bought bread from the vendor with the humped back.
I carried it home singing, I thought the days had doors in them
that would swing open in front of me.

Now I copy the alphabets of three languages,
imagining the loops in my Arabic letters are eyes.
What you do when you are tired of what you see,

what happens to the gray body when it is laid in the earth,
these are the subjects which concern me. But they teach algebra.
They pull our hair back and examine our nails.

Every afternoon, predictable passage of sun across a wall.
I would fly out of here. Travel, I say.
I would go so far away my life would be a small thing behind me.

They teach physics, chemistry. I throw my book out the window,
watch the pages scatter like swings.
I stitch the professor's jacket to the back of his chair.

There is something else we were born for.
I almost remember it. While I write, a ghost writes on the same tablet,
achieves a different sum.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye
from Words Under the Words
(Far Corner Books, 1995)

photo: Bob Hate