Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change

By Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952
Roselva says the only thing that doesn’t change   
is train tracks. She’s sure of it.
The train changes, or the weeds that grow up spidery   
by the side, but not the tracks.
I’ve watched one for three years, she says,
and it doesn’t curve, doesn’t break, doesn’t grow.

Peter isn’t sure. He saw an abandoned track
near Sabinas, Mexico, and says a track without a train   
is a changed track. The metal wasn’t shiny anymore.   
The wood was split and some of the ties were gone.

Every Tuesday on Morales Street
butchers crack the necks of a hundred hens.   
The widow in the tilted house
spices her soup with cinnamon.
Ask her what doesn’t change.

Stars explode.
The rose curls up as if there is fire in the petals.   
The cat who knew me is buried under the bush.

The train whistle still wails its ancient sound   
but when it goes away, shrinking back
from the walls of the brain,
it takes something different with it every time.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books, 1995)

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Poet Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952

Subjects Time & Brevity, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Naomi Shihab Nye

Biography

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. Her experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, . . .

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SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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