Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words (The Eighth Mountain Press, 1994).
Used with the author’s permission.
Naomi Shihab Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother and lives in San Antonio. Recently she’s been in Helsinki, Finland for the Runo Kuu Poetry Moon Festival. Naomi is the author of numerous books of poems, the most recent being Transfer, from BOA Editions (2011).
Posted 09/11/2012 05:59 PM
This poem has long been one of my favorites. I'm so glad you featured it here.
Posted 09/11/2012 05:26 PM
Beautiful!! It lifts me, telling me to try being kindness, at least for today.
Thank you! This is a "saver".
Posted 09/11/2012 04:23 PM
@wendy morton -- Naomi's _Transfer_ was instrumental in helping me get over the grief that came from losing a friend to cancer this year.
An all-around great poem to post today.
Posted 09/11/2012 12:59 PM
Beautiful in every sense. Thank you.
Posted 09/11/2012 12:35 PM
This exquisite poem. I am looking forward to hearing Naomi read at the Poets' Forum in NYC in October. I have just read one stanza to a friend, who is waking up with sorrow.
Posted 09/11/2012 12:27 PM
September 11 is a good day to read this poem but I guess, too, that, given its meaning, any day will be a good day to read it. Thanks.
Posted 09/11/2012 11:38 AM
I have always loved and admired Naomi's poems. Thanks for posting this.
Posted 09/11/2012 10:47 AM
So truthful...and mindful...thank you for this awakening poem.
Posted 09/11/2012 10:25 AM
It's easy to be cynical; more difficult to be thoughtful.
Posted 09/11/2012 09:28 AM