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1 of 19 Varieties of Gazelle

Naomi Shihab Nye, a San Antonio resident who taught workshops at my high school, is an accomplished poet who writes about big issues such as growing up Arab-American and the situation in the West Bank by bringing small details to life. Here’s a selection from her collection of poems 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East.

Biography of an Armenian Schoolgirl

I have lived in the room of stone
where voices become bones
buried under us long ago.
You could dig for years
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—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 marry 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,
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 do 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 wings.
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.


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