By Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952
Some nights
the rat with pointed teeth   
makes his long way back   
to the bowl of peaches.
He stands on the dining room table   
sinking his tooth
drinking the pulp
of each fruity turned-up face   
knowing you will read
this message and scream.   
It is his only text,
to take and take in darkness,   
to be gone before you awaken   
and your giant feet
start creaking the floor.

Where is the mother of the rat?   
The father, the shredded nest,   
which breath were we taking   
when the rat was born,
when he lifted his shivering snout   
to rafter and rivet and stone?   
I gave him the names of the devil,   
seared and screeching names,   
I would not enter those rooms   
without a stick to guide me,
I leaned on the light, shuddering,   
and the moist earth under the house,   
the trailing tails of clouds,
said he was in the closet,
the drawer of candles,
his nose was a wick.

How would we live together
with our sad shoes and hideouts,
our lock on the door
and his delicate fingered paws
that could clutch and grip,
his blank slate of fur
and the pillow where we press our faces?   
The bed that was a boat is sinking.   
And the shores of morning loom up   
lined with little shadows,
things we never wanted to be, or meet,   
and all the rats are waving hello.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Hello” 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 Home Life, Relationships, Pets

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Naomi Shihab Nye


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 Home Life, Relationships, Pets

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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