Making A Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye

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.

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