"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cold Morning Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye

Happy Valentine's Day:
"Come and sit by my side if you love me!"


"Look around you, look up here
Take time to make time, make time to be there
Look around, be a part
Feel for the winter, but don't have a cold heart"

lyrics from "Lady"
by The Little River Band

I first discovered the poems of Naomi Shihab back in 1975, in a publication called Power: Personal Reflections by Youth for Youth. My friends and I enjoyed subscribing to this little St. Louis - based poetry magazine and ordering gift subscriptions for each other every Christmas. Although Naomi didn't know it, I was her groupie in those days and copied all of her work into a notebook that I kept throughout high school and college. The following cold morning poems have long been among my favorites:

I would be no one.
I would have no head, no hair, no comb.
I would be the thin mist in the air of a cold morning;

I would rise and disappear early, before the sun
and the noisy streets and everyone moving.

I would hum and greet you when you awaken,
with no words, no face, no promise but my love,
like a river.

I would be here, be here, be here invisible, forever --
when all the braver ones have gone to hide --
when all these tears have years and years been dried.

It is a new day, chill and icy like a cold, sharp, knife.
It is a new day in a long line of new days in a life.


I walk in wonder to watch
The bundled people in the early light returning with nods
A morning hello

And to think we felt alone all night.

Now, I think I might read this second poem somewhat differently than I did back in the years when I was first such a fan of Naomi Shihab's youthful poetry. More often than not, the "bundled people" do not respond with a nod or a morning hello. No acknowledgement whatsoever of your shared humanity on this planet. Life can seem so harsh, making it through the maze of obligations and errands, dealing with this conflict or that, so many daily unpleasantries. Then, as evening falls, home at last to the inner sanctum of family, friends, and loved ones. Such security!

And to think we felt alone all day!

Home Sweet Home

Here is one more "cold morning" poem, written some twenty years later than those above. This one carries a more somber tone, a sense of loss, and a bit less certainty that all is now or ever will be right with the world:

Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
I lumbered into a storm of snow up the long hill
and did not know where I was going except to the top of it.
In those days we went out like that.
Even children went out like that.
Someone was crying hard at home again,
raging blizzard of sobs.

I dragged the sled by its rope,
which we normally did not do
when snow was coming down so hard,
pulling my brother whom I called by our secret name
as if we could be other people under the skin.
The snow bit into my face, prickling the rim
of the head where the hair starts coming out.
And it was a big one. It would come down and down
for days. People would dig their cars out like potatoes.

How are you doing back there? I shouted,
and he said Fine, I’m doing fine,
in the sunniest voice he could muster
and I think I should love him more today
for having used it.

At the top we turned and he slid down,
steering himself with the rope gripped in
his mittened hands. I stumbled behind
sinking deeply, shouting Ho! Look at him go!
as if we were having a good time.
Alone on the hill. That was the deepest
I ever went into the snow. Now I think of it
when I stare at paper or into silences
between human beings. The drifting
accumulation. A father goes months
without speaking to his son.

How there can be a place
so cold any movement saves you.

Ho! You bang your hands together,
stomp your feet. The father could die!
The son! Before the weather changes.

from Fuel

all poems by Naomi Shihab Nye (b 1952)
Contemporary Palestinian / American Poet

A few more of my Naomi Shihab Nye favorites from the mid - 1970s appear in previous posts:

Intellectual Cup of Lyrics (November 4, 2009)


"My Cat" & "Feeding the Cat"
Quotidian Cat (November 6, 2009)

and one more

"Spiritual Journey"
can be found in the right hand column of mantras on
The Quotidian Kit:

"Where are you on
your spiritual journey?"
you ask, your sharp eyes
thumbtacking the question
on my heart.

What can I say?
I am somewhere beyond "go"
I have not stopped.

Years have shown me
the idea of travelling
is a game we play with ourselves
to pretend we're not home.

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, February 28, 2011

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading


  1. O, Kitty. But as you wrote to me:

    And in despair I bowed my head.
    There is no peace on earth I said...

    I know where your poet speaks from her soul. I too have that sadness, that loneliness, that hopelessness.

    But then along comes Kitty and shocks me out of it with a reminder of my favorite song of all time.

    And so I wish it might be for you.

    But yes, on another poem, isn't coming home the best thing of all?

    How I wish I could "put it all together" in my head! Yet I never can. Maybe someday. Thanks as always, K. :)

  2. Paula -- Thanks -- and you're right -- it is that way for me too! Because of your reminder, I have beeing humming Donovan all morning! And, though you didn't mention it specifically, something you said put the Little River Band into my head: "feel for the winter, but don't have a cold heart."