This poem was my introduction to Naomi Shihab Nye. I don’t even remember how or when I came across it, but it has stayed with me forever after:
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.
“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”
Click here to read the final stanza, and to hear Nye herself give a reading of it.
I think this poem really showcases Nye’s economy of language. This poem is stripped of any unnecessary details: where they were going and why, what was really wrong with the poor kid… The line “My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin” is all we need. Ten words, and I know exactly the kind of pain she’s in, and why she thought she was dying.
And then there’s the quiet power of the last line: “I who did not die, who am still living…” The last stanza acknowledges life’s hardships, but puts them in perspective when measured against the strength of a child’s fist.
The fine femmes at Two Writing Teachers are rounding up for this week’s Poetry Friday. Head on over and see what they got.