Two Countries by Naomi Shihab Nye

Feeling happy and miserable at the same time. Happy that I keep finding poems to love, and miserable because I don’t think I will be able to do this. How do these poets find words, these glorious words, and put them all together on a page that will make a stranger like me fall in love? Can I find this power within myself? Is there a secret compartment that I need to unlock? How how how how, cries the young poet to no one in particular. Somewhere a master is shaking his head, pursing his lips, keeping quiet.

Two Countries
Naomi Shihab Nye

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers–silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

This is from Words Under Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, published by Far Corner Books, 1995.

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