Poem Menu

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Dear Chula, remember how discussing simple phrases

gave the greatest pleasure – to be “out of sorts” or “beside oneself”

for example, because when did people ever feel “in sorts” or

“inside oneself” or mention when they did?  Somehow our echoes,

floating conversations from college days, are helping me

hold the quarantine more kindly. We’re all okay…but just this moment

how many gasp and die? Who could not feel out of one’s mind?

While we putter around our cozy homes, staying “safe and sane”

as all the letters finish now, the count ticks up.

Feeling beside myself at every minute?  For you, and you…

Here’s my hope: those surviving will get a menu.  A set of memories

“still to think about.” An unfinished song. New plans. A group of phrases

folded on a beautiful card, like the “Poem Menus” on hospital trays

in Ireland, the “Poems for Patience” I was asked to pick one year,

all 22 of them, from writers big and small, voices one might wish to meet,

beside the pudding or jello. It was the best job I ever had.

While recovering from surgery or sickness, a patient would find

a surprise toast to Back-to-Life, Slow Time,

succulent words nicely arranged,

and maybe feel their own groggy heads echoing response –

oh, that reminds me of… then something more to think about.

How millions are wishing you all longer lives. Ourselves, as well.

But where is hither and yon, for example?

Do they have the virus there?

Pan Pals is honored to host this new poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, the National Young People’s Poet Laureate and a godmother of San Antonio literature. As it says in Naomi’s bio from the Academy of American Poets, Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit. About her work, the poet William Stafford has said, “her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life.

Here, we get the sense that the poet is writing especially for us, just now–helping our community try to find a way to “hold the quarantine more kindly” as we navigate the insistences of hope and life in a time of pandemic.

The image at top is Marc Chagall’s 1913 painting Paris Through the Window, now housed at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York. (Shared courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the Guggenheim Collection Online.)

3 thoughts on “Poem Menu

  1. To “hold the quarantine more kindly” is an aspiration for which I yearn.

    During this time of pandemic, I talk to my college roommates weekly. We check in with each other, reliving past conversations and memories. In between the jokes, the conversations trail off. We have different obligations now. Your poem, Ms. Nye, brings all that longing, hope, and promise forth. I appreciate your words so much. Thank you for illuminating– between hither and yon– what cannot always be easily said.

    Liked by 1 person

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