Naomi Shihab Nye

cantfindit

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University. Nye is the author of numerous books of poems, most recently Cast Away: Poems for Our Time (Greenwillow Books, 2020). Her other books of poetry include The Tiny Journalist (BOA Editions, 2019); You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award; and 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (Greenwillow Books, 2002), a collection of new and selected poems about the Middle East. She is also the author of several books of poetry and fiction for children, including Habibi (Simon Pulse, 1997), for which she received the Jane Addams Children's Book award in 1998. Nye’s honors include awards from the International Poetry Forum and the Texas Institute of Letters, the Carity Randall Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award, and four Pushcart Prizes. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow. In 1988, she received the Academy of American Poets' Lavan Award, judged by W. S. Merwin. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2010 to 2015, and is the Poetry Foundation's Young People's Poet Laureate from 2019-2021. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas. Source

Gate A-4

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning

my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:

"If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please

come to the gate immediately."

 

Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

 

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just

like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. "Help,"

said the flight agent. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We

told her the flight was going to be late and she did this."

 

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.

"Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-

se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly

used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled

entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the

next day. I said, "No, we're fine, you'll get there, just later, who is

picking you up? Let's call him."

 

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would

stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to

her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just

for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while

in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I

thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know

and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

 

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,

answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool

cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and

nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a

sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the

lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered

sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

 

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two

little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they

were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—

by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,

some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-

tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

 

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This

is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that

gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about

any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

 

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Published:

2008

Length:

Regular

Literary Movements:

Contemporary

Anthology Years:

Themes:

Bilingual

Faith & Hope

Family

Intersectionality & Culture

Poems of the Everyday

Literary Devices:

Dialogue

conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie

Essay/Prose

written or spoken language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure

Interrupted Clause

a word group (a statement, question, or exclamation) that interrupts the flow of a sentence and is usually set off by commas, dashes, or parentheses