Making a Fist

By Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952
    We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
                                                                  —Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Making a Fist” from Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry. Copyright © 1988 by University of Utah Press. Reprinted by permission of Naomi Shihab Nye.

Source: Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry (University of Utah Press, 1988)

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Poet Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952

Subjects Living, Youth, Death, The Body, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Activities, Travels & Journeys

Occasions Funerals

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 Living, Youth, Death, The Body, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Activities, Travels & Journeys

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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