Naomi Shihab Nye is in my top 3, as far as poets go. This is from a very special collection of hers, “19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East.”
Lunch in Nablus City Park
When you lunch in a town
which has recently known war
under a calm slate sky mirroring none of it,
certain words feel impossible in the mouth.
Casualty: too casual, it must be changed.
A short man stacks mounds of pita bread
on each end of the table, muttering
something about more to come.
Plump birds landing on park benches
surely had their eyes closed recently,
must have seen nothing of weapons or blockades.
When the woman across from you whispers
I don’t think we can take it anymore
and you say there are people praying for her
in the mountains of Himalaya and she says
Lady, it is not enough, then what?
A plate of hummus, dish of tomato,
friends dipping bread —
I will not marry till there is true love, says one,
throwing back her cascade of perfumed hair.
He says the University of Texas seems
remote to him
as Mars, and last month he stayed in the house
for 26 days. He will not leave, he refuses to leave.
In the market they are selling
men’s shoes with air vents, a beggar displays
the giant scab of leg he must drag
from alley to alley,
and students argue about
the best ways to protest.
In summers, this cafe is full.
Today only our table sends laughter into the trees.
What cannot be answered checkers the tablecloth
between the squares of white and red.
Where do the souls of hills hide
when there is shooting in the valleys?
What makes a man with a gun seem bigger
than a man with almonds? How can there be war
and the next day eating, a man stacking plates
on the curl of his arm, a table of people
toasting one another in languages of grace:
For you who came so far;
For you who held out, wearing a black scarf
to signify grief;
For you who believe true love can find you
amidst this atlas of tears linking one town
to its own memory of mortar,
when it was still a dream to be built
and people moved here, believing,
and someone with sky and birds in his heart
said this would be a good place for a park.
—Naomi Shihab Nye