Vox Populi

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Naomi Shihab Nye: Blood

“A true Arab knows how to catch a fly in his hands,”

my father would say. And he’d prove it,

cupping the buzzer instantly

while the host with the swatter stared.


In the spring our palms peeled like snakes.

True Arabs believed watermelon could heal fifty ways.

I changed these to fit the occasion.


Years before, a girl knocked,

wanted to see the Arab.

I said we didn’t have one.

After that, my father told me who he was,

“Shihab”—“shooting star”—

a good name, borrowed from the sky.

Once I said, “When we die, we give it back?”

He said that’s what a true Arab would say.


Today the headlines clot in my blood.

A little Palestinian dangles a truck on the front page.

Homeless fig, this tragedy with a terrible root

is too big for us. What flag can we wave?

I wave the flag of stone and seed,

table mat stitched in blue.


I call my father, we talk around the news.

It is too much for him,

neither of his two languages can reach it.

I drive into the country to find sheep, cows,

to plead with the air:

Who calls anyone civilized? 

Where can the crying heart graze?

What does a true Arab do now?

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Blood” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Naomi Shihab Nye (Arabic: نعومي شهاب ناي; born 1952) is an American poet, editor, songwriter, and novelist. Born to a Palestinian father and an American mother, she began composing her first poetry at the age of six. In total, she has published or contributed to over 30 volumes of poetry. Her works include poetry, young-adult fiction, picture books, and novels. Nye received the 2013 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature in honor of her entire body of work as a writer, and in 2019 the Poetry Foundation designated her the Young People’s Poet Laureate for the 2019–21 term. [bio adapted from Wikipedia]

17 comments on “Naomi Shihab Nye: Blood

  1. Chrystal Shook
    March 3, 2023

    Naomi’s words stir your mind and pierce your heart as she gives voice to generations steeped in enduring love and endless pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chrystal Shook
    March 3, 2023

    Naomi’s words stir mind and pierce the heart as she gives voice to generations steeped in deep love and enduring pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dinah Kudatsky
    February 20, 2023

    Beautiful, beautiful! May these homeless figs find root.


  4. Rose Mary Boehm
    February 19, 2023

    A beautiful, original, powerful, and moving poem.


  5. Barbara Huntington
    February 19, 2023

    I treasure the workshops I attended with her, the one postponed, the one I canceled because the beautiful monastery was too far if a stroke returned. One of my favorite poets. I cry for the Palestinians. That makes more sense than this pitypot I awoke to. Time to eat breakfast and pet the dog.


  6. John Zheng
    February 19, 2023

    I really enjoyed this poem. It’s about name,about heritage flowing in the blood.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Robbi Nester
    February 19, 2023

    A beautiful statement of heritage and identity.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Joanne Durham
    February 19, 2023

    So horrific that this poem was published almost thirty years ago, and still as relevant today as it was then. Thank you to Naomi Shihab Nye for her powerful voice for peace and justice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 19, 2023

      Yes, it’s amazing that we are still protesting the things we protested when we were young.


      Liked by 1 person

  9. Saleh Razzouk
    February 19, 2023

    I liked the poem from the bottom of my heart. I felt it as i feel my Arabism and our Palestine.
    Despite this i can not know the difference between a true Arab and a fake one.
    Arabs are the Arabs but they are varied like other peoples, like the Americans and the good Russians.
    The Somalis can not be just like the
    Even the preislamic period can not be the same as modern times. Not to mention the Syrians before this so called Arabic Spring and after.
    I think an Anglo Saxon is not a mirror image of a modern British person.
    I enjoyed this different poem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 19, 2023

      Thank you, Saleh, for your clarity on this matter of identity.



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This entry was posted on February 19, 2023 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry, Social Justice, War and Peace and tagged , , , , , .

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