Words Under the Words
by Naomi Shihad Nye
With this book, Naomi Shihab Nye has become one of my favorite contemporary poets. The book is filled with phenomenal lines and images. In my first reading of the 104 poems, I marked 30 poems that I wanted to read again.
Here are the beautiful opening three lines of Biography of an Armenian Schoolgirl.
"I have lived in the room of stone where voices become
bones buried under us long ago. Where you could dig
for centuries uncovering the same sweet dust."
In the poem, At Otto's Place, Naomi writes:
"Could I live like this? I ask myself
and I know, somehow, I must.
More and more my life is peeling paint,
More and more my name dissolves in the air,
salt, something invisible I taste,
I love the phrase, "my life is peeling paint." What a powerful image!
In the poem, The House in the Heart, Nye writes:
"This body we thought so important,
it's a porch, that's all.
I know this, but I don't know
what to do about it."
Our bodies are a resting place — a place from which we look out at the world. We know many things but knowledge alone is not enough. We need to learn what to do to change things. Nye packs so much into these four lines.
In the poem, Jerusalem, Nye writes:
"To live without roads seemed one way
not to get lost. To make maps
of stone and grass, to rub stars together
and find a spark."
It is only because we have roads that we get lost. If we did not have roads to follow, we would not lose our way. So often we get so focused on where we want to go that we forget where we are. Maybe our goals and dreams are not as important as we think.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read poetry as well as anyone who loves words.