Poet, teacher, essayist, anthologist, songwriter and singer, Naomi Shihab Nye is one of the country's most acclaimed writers. Her voice is generous; her vision true; her subjects ordinary people, and ordinary situations which, when rendered through her language, become remarkable. In this, her fourth full collection of poetry, we see with new eyes-a grandmother's scarf, an alarm clock, a man carrying his son on his shoulders.
Valentine for Ernest Mann
You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter and say, "I’ll take two"
and expect it to handed back to you
on a shiny plate.
Still, I like you spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here’s my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.
Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.
Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.
Here Nye's (Yellow Glove) poems travel from American attics to the rutted roads of Palestine. Most focus on details of daily life; throughout, the narrator maintains an obsession with letters, the only object able to journey safely between discrete worlds. Some letters, like that in ``Sincerely,'' arrive humbly, ``having lost faith of finding/ either name written on it.'' The more passionate letters in ``Saved'' are burnt before a lover and turn to ash. Other poems explore memory; ``Lullaby for Regret'' does full justice to the ``thin sliver/ that needles my wake.'' Nye writes quietly. Her cool distance is her best talent, for when she approaches charged topics like conflict and death, she tends to offer unsatisfying metaphors and puny images. Her discourse on war, ``For the 500th Dead Palestinian, Ibtisam Bozieh,'' rings hollow, from title to conclusion. ``Shoulders,'' the final poem, strains to carry both a child and the book on its back, and its invocation to children as ``the world's most sensitive cargo'' is rote. Nye's strength is her ability to express subtle emotions; weightier issues overwhelm her small, clear voice.