In these last few days that I’ve been so sick, I’ve thought about so many things, but most especially about dying. My body has been made a stranger, and I felt extremely powerless. Time and time again I tried making fists, remembering this poem:
Making a Fist
Naomi Shihab Nye
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.”
Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
This is from Words Under Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, published by Far Corner Books, 1995.