Vox Populi

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Naomi Shihab Nye: United

When sleepless, it’s helpful to meditate on mottoes of the states.
South Carolina, “While I breathe I hope.”  Perhaps this could be
the new flag on the empty flagpole.
Or “I Direct” from Maine—why?
Because Maine gets the first sunrise?  How bossy, Maine!
Kansas, “To the Stars through Difficulties”—
clackety wagon wheels, long, long land
and the droning press of heat—cool stars, relief.
In Arkansas, “The People Rule”—lucky you.
Idaho, “Let It Be Perpetual”—now this is strange.
Idaho, what is your “it”?
Who chose these lines?
How many contenders?
What would my motto be tonight, in tangled sheets?
Texas—“Friendship”—now boasts the Open Carry law.
Wisconsin, where my mother’s parents are buried,
chose “Forward.”
New Mexico, “It Grows As It Goes”—now this is scary.
Two dangling its. This does not represent that glorious place.
West Virginia, “Mountaineers Are Always Free”—really?
Washington, you’re wise.
What could be better than “By and By”?
Oklahoma must be tired—“Labor Conquers all Things.”
Oklahoma, get together with Nevada, who chose only
“Industry” as motto. I think of Nevada as a playground
or mostly empty. How wrong we are about one another.
For Alaska to pick “North to the Future”
seems odd. Where else are they going?


Copyright 2018 Naomi Shihab Nye. This poem now appears in Voices in the Air – Poems for Listeners (Greenwillow, 2018) and also recently went on tour with Bono/U2 scrolled on a big screen. Included in Vox Populi with permission of the author.


6 comments on “Naomi Shihab Nye: United

  1. lisadellosborn
    January 2, 2019

    This was very amusing and a great juxtaposition to a poem I had signed by you at Harding University in Arkansas, “War”. I love both, and your book, Habibi. Your work stirs and inspires me, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Daniel R. Cobb
    November 6, 2018

    That was fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Arlene Weiner
    November 5, 2018

    West Viriginia’s “Mountaineers are always free” actually makes sense historically. Mountainous West Virginia was part of the state of Virginia, but seceded from the Confederacy.


  4. sue rumbaugh
    November 5, 2018

    Always so clever, finding nuggets of wisdom right in plain view! You are a gem, Naomi!!

    Liked by 1 person

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