The Small Vases from Hebron

By Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952
Tip their mouths open to the sky.   
Turquoise, amber,
the deep green with fluted handle,   
pitcher the size of two thumbs,   
tiny lip and graceful waist.

Here we place the smallest flower   
which could have lived invisibly   
in loose soil beside the road,   
sprig of succulent rosemary,
bowing mint.

They grow deeper in the center of the table.

Here we entrust the small life,   
thread, fragment, breath.   
And it bends. It waits all day.
As the bread cools and the children   
open their gray copybooks   
to shape the letter that looks like   
a chimney rising out of a house.

And what do the headlines say?

Nothing of the smaller petal
perfectly arranged inside the larger petal
or the way tinted glass filters light.   
Men and boys, praying when they died,
fall out of their skins.
The whole alphabet of living,   
heads and tails of words,
sentences, the way they said,   
“Ya’Allah!” when astonished,   
or “ya’ani” for “I mean”—
a crushed glass under the feet
still shines.         
But the child of Hebron sleeps
with the thud of her brothers falling   
and the long sorrow of the color red.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “The Small Vases from Hebron” from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by the permission of BOA Editions Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Source: Fuel (BOA Editions Ltd., 1998)

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Poet Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952

Subjects Living, Social Commentaries, Nature, War & Conflict, Home Life, Relationships, Trees & Flowers, Death

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 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 Living, Social Commentaries, Nature, War & Conflict, Home Life, Relationships, Trees & Flowers, Death

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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