Support for on being with Krista Tippett comes from the Fetzer Institute, helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Fatso's new study. What does spirituality mean to us? Reveals how spirituality informs our understanding of ourselves and each other and inspires us to take action for the common good. Explore these findings and more at spirituality study, Greg. I'm Krista Tippett. Up next, my unedited conversation with poet and teacher Naomi Shihab Nye. There is, as always, a shorter produced version of this, wherever you found this podcast.
Yep, she's right here. Hi, here I am. Hello, nice to be in touch with you.
Yes, Naomi, this is Krista Tippett. Hi, Krista. How are you? I'm good.
I want to I want to hear you say your name the way you say it before.
OK, sure. But so many people are in shock that I get to talk to you today, my friends in different cities.
Who are your films that you have so many fans everywhere. I say my name Naomi Shihab Nye.
OK, well, that's very that's a lovely thing. Yeah. People just adore you and they all have their favorite programs. And really, you don't want to get them started talking about you because they'll go on. No, just kidding. It'll go on for quite a while.
Oh, well, I'm as beautiful. Thanks for the work you do. Yeah. Oh, you too. It's been just wonderful. It's it kind of steep and wallow in your work these last few days.
That's so sweet of you to say. And everybody here who's been reading is also a huge fan. Oh, that's so sweet. Thank you. Great. All right.
So let's stop this mutual admiration society and then get down to business. OK.
OK. There is a little fan, I hear it as well. Well, yeah, we have air conditioning noise. Let me let me see if we can turn it off for the duration of the interview. One moment. It's going to get warm. Yeah. Also, the microphone a little lower, OK? Also, do you by chance have a little water? Oh, yes. OK, thanks.
I should have brought some. Sorry. Chris, do you need any kind of sound check you need. OK, ok. OK, ok. Just tell us something, something banal like what you had for breakfast.
Let's see for breakfast. I had two eggs with spinach from a garden. I picked my friends. The best gardeners I know are in Hawaii for three weeks so they gave me an invitation to pluck from their garden during their absence.
This is a great pleasure.
So we're having a lot of green things right now at home. There's nothing better than freshly grown spinach, even though know. I know. And it's one of those things that's so much more disappointing when you buy it at the store. That's right.
That's right. It's just nothing. It's not the same. And last night we had these butter lettuce salads from their garden and just, you know, you didn't even need hardly to put anything else in the salad. It was so delicious. Just that beautiful, beautiful lettuce. So thank you from Texas. Gardens are very happy at this time of year.
I grew up in Oklahoma, if you know that's OK. It's yeah. You know, it's it's not Texas, but it's it's that it's it's that it's a very close culture, I think. I think it is. And I'll actually be in Minnesota next week. So you will. Yes. I'm visiting a group, the Wisdom Ways Group. Do you know, I think it's at the University of Saint Catherine, and I think so in St. Paul.
Well, if you find yourself with time or the inclination, come over and say hello to us.
Oh, you're so are in Minneapolis, which which here is kind of like, you know, you have to lived across the Mississippi River, but it's actually not that far, right? No, I know. It's lovely. I love both those places.
Yeah, OK, well think about that. OK, Chris is giving us a thumbs up. Thumbs up.
I'm very sorry that I seem to be having some kind of allergy attack the last few days. OK, well, I don't hear it in your voice and so feel free. You know, we're we will we'll edit this and we can edit out sneezers and snobbism. OK, OK. So if you needed to pause do that and it's no problem at all.
And I have I have literally let's see, one, two, three, four, five, six of your books spread out in front of me. And so I may have to pause to like find a page. Oh that's fine. And I don't and I yeah. So we'll just we'll figure out what the rhythm of this is, how much talking. Um, I'm kind of thinking at the very end. I will ask you to read. Did you bring transfer with you.
I did. And kindness because I think I do those not a few from transfer. And then and then I may read I may read some of your words to you from from the other books. That would be lovely.
And did you have anything you'd like me to mark in transfer specially so that I don't have to look for it here.
I you know, let's get let's see where the conversation goes because I broke down too many, so let's see where we kind of end up. And then it's not a problem for you to look at. OK, no, no. Let's see what I mean. I think I'm also going to be curious, you know, after we talked for an hour, like what feels right to you to read.
Sure. Right. Right. OK, great. Then I think we can just embark on this conversation. Um, yeah. I, um, I always start my interviews by inquiring about the religious or spiritual background of someone's childhood. And I understand that question of, you know, the spiritual background of your childhood. I think our understanding of that and imagination about that probably evolves as we grow older and look back.
But I just wonder where you'd start reflecting on what that was in your life.
Sure. So just dive in. Yeah.
Oh, I felt very lucky as a child to have open minded parents, and I knew they were open minded because they were unlike any other parents. I met my friend's parents. I also knew that they didn't practice the the religions of their upbringings, either one of them. So this fascinated me as even a little child. And I would ask a lot of questions. There was no sense of a taboo subject.
They were both devoted to learning and discussing and finding harmonious similarities between people, between faiths. And I felt very lucky, I was conscious of that it wasn't something that, you know, took me till I was an adult to realize this is a precious thing.
They both had a warmth about their own desire to raise open minded children that they would talk about to anyone, to other people's parents. My father had not really had a difficult time telling his family that he didn't want to practice Islam. He said, I will respect it, but I don't want to practice it. And they had accepted that. My mother's family, on the other hand, had been more hard hearted about her rejection of their German Lutheran Missouri Synod background.
And so she had had suffered, you know, kind of a familial rejection. You're you're in trouble. You're a bad person, therefore.
But this was something both of my parents could talk about with each other and with their children. You know, that people are raised in all kinds of different ways. And if it doesn't feel meaningful to you, maybe you have to search more. You have to keep searching. So I was raised attending both Sunday school at a unity church, attending the Vedanta society every Sunday, which is, you know, philosophical Hindu sect in St. Louis, a very fascinating place for a small child to be attending Methodist Bible School.
And in the summers, my mother thought it was important that we know the literature of the Bible, the references of the Bible, but and then our father would tell us about Islam. And so I knew about that path through him, but I never felt there was a compulsion to be anyone thing. And I was a religion major in college. So of course you were.
Yeah, because of my appetite for this topic. And I was fascinated to study more about Zen Buddhism, which appealed to me very much from the beginning.
And of course, you're your father and his family had become refugees in 1948 when when the state of Israel was created. Yes. Palestinian refugees. And, you know, you've written in places you said it this way, that your father seemed a little shell shocked when you were growing up. And I mean, obviously, he was an amazing, wonderful person. But but I also wondered if that shell shock, which seems like you were observing as a child, also is in the spiritual background of your childhood kind of expansively understood.
Well, I think my father, he had a very fair quality. He wanted things to be fair. And it was hard for him to understand cruelty of any one group to another group of people. And so to sort of he to rebound from that, you know, not to be carrying the weight of any bitterness, not to be angry, but always to be trying to find an equilibrium. I mean, I think that would be an essence of faith involved in that, but also just sort of general daily politics, the way human beings treat one another.
Why does one person feel more entitled than another person? How can there be a chosen person in unchosen person? All the ramifications of and mysteries of that were were very much around him. And he was always trying to talk it out or feel it out with other people. What did they think about it? How could we how could any anything help? What would help?
And you've it seems like you became a writer at a very young age like I did, and I feel very lucky to have been exposed to literature, you know, to have had not only a mother who read to us, a father who told us stories are my own obsession with going to the library of every Saturday of my childhood and having stacks of books around me at all times, but also that feeling that it that that the literary world was our world, the world of human beings, and anyone had the possibility of participating in that world.
And so it wasn't as if I was waiting for a bigger, smarter moment to come along in which I could start writing.
I just started writing, you know, the minute I could write, you know, like seven, six, I was I was six when I started writing my own poems and seven when I started sending them out. And and just today, some students I was talking to in a Skype class in Kuwait, how much I love the modern world that we can do these things. I was with these students for two hours and I feel like I'm going to think about them for the rest of my life.
But one young man asked me, how were you brave enough to do that? What gave you the confidence? He said, I've been trying to run a publication here at our university campus and I can't get my friends to give me their writing. They're not brave enough. What gave you confidence? And I think just having, you know, that sense of voice, well, other people have done it. That's what we do. If you know words, if you compose, you might want to share them because they'll have a bigger life if you do that.
So, you know, I certainly wasn't thinking about a career. I never for one second thought of myself as having a particular talent. I just thought of myself as having a practice. You know, if you have a practice of writing, then you have a lot of pieces of paper on your desk and you could share them if you chose to.
And it seemed it seemed more exciting or illuminating to share them and see what happened next than to just keep them for myself.
Well, it seems so. I'm very interested in general in this question of, you know, what what poetry works in us. But I think even that question itself suggests, you know, hasn't held the implication that poetry is something separate, something distinct. But it seems that in your sensibility, you know, you really you you see it as very organic. I mean, there's I think it was in in some of your writing about your writing for poems by children.
You said, I think I do think that all of us think and poems.
I do. Which is another, you know, that would also lead you if you if that's the way you see it, to not see it as so. Special that you were writing things down and sharing them, so say a little bit more about us thinking and poems like how you think you so much for even noticing that wherever it was. And I think that is very important and not feeling separate from text, feeling sort of your thoughts as text or the world as it passes through you as a kind of text, the story that you would be telling to yourself about this street, even as you walk down it or as you drive down it, as you look out the window, the story you would be telling.
It always seemed very much to me as a child that I was living in a poem, that my life was the poem. And in fact, at this late date, I have started putting that on the board of any room I walk into that has a board. I just came back from Japan a month ago and every classroom I would just write on the board, you are living in a poem. And then I would write other things just relating to whatever we were doing in that class.
But I found the students very intrigued by discussing that, you know. What do you mean we're living in a poem or when all the time or just when someone talks about poetry. And I'd say no. When you think when you're in a very quiet place, when you're remembering, when you're savoring an image, when you're allowing your mind calmly to leap from one thought to another, that's a poem. That's what a poem does. And they like that.
And a group, in fact, wrote me a note in Yokohama on the day that I was leaving her school that has come to be like the most significant note any student has written me in years. She said, well, here in Japan, we have a concept called You Told Me, and it is spaciousness. It's a kind of living with spaciousness. And she gave all these examples, for example, like it's leaving early, early enough to get somewhere so that, you know, you're going to arrive early.
So when you get there, you have time to look around. You have a patience of a moment to look around. You're not always racing because when you're racing, you can't look around and you can't really absorb the atmosphere or unless you have all these different, different definitions of what you thought she was to her. But one of them was an after you read a poem, just knowing you can hold it, you can be in that space of the poem and it can hold you in its space.
And you don't have to explain it. You don't have to paraphrase it. You just hold it and it allows you to see differently. And I just love that. I mean, I think that's what I've been trying to say all these years. I should have studied Japanese.
Maybe that's where all our ideas are Japanese. Well, well.
And so another way you do talk about poetry is, you know, I do also think about your Arabic ancestry and and their reverence for poetry that is in is in those cultures. And and you talk a lot about your father and his reverence for the power of words and language. And, you know, and here's a way you, I feel, have appropriate to that. You say poetry is a form of conversation. And it seems to me that a lot of your poems are.
Because they're holding a conversation or opening conversations that aren't actually happening out there in the culture or in the narrative of kind of how we're telling the story of our time. I hope so. I really hope that is true, and I think that the the essence of a kind of exchange is what poetry is interested into.
I mean, the feeling that you're not battered by thought in a poem, but you are you are sort of as if you're riding the wave of thought, as if you're allowing thought to enter your shifting.
You're changing. You're looking, you know, kind of aslant, as Emily Dickinson talked about, you know, carrying something kind of on the slant, tipping the head.
You are in a sensibility that allows you that sort of mental, emotional, spiritual interaction with with everything around you. I think it's very, very helpful for mental health, actually. I mean, I I really wonder sometimes what it would be like to live without that apprehension, you know, that you could have a thought shape, a thought, change of thought. Look at the words in a thought that you could take a word and just sort of use that word.
I think I said this like 40 years ago in a poem, use a single word is an or that could get you through the days just by holding a word, thinking about it differently.
And seeing how that word rubs against other words, how it interplays with other words, you know, that it's there's a luxury of that kind of thinking about language in the text, but it's very basic as well. I mean, it's it's simple. It's invisible. It doesn't cost anything. I was reading someone's blog the other day. She works with people who are in prisons and she said she uses poetry because in her own life, she found that it helped her stay sane more than anything else.
And she also said it's free and it doesn't have any side effects that are negative. And I like that thinking about as if they get out like, you know, like a drug reaction or something. You can listen to the poem and you may not love everybody. Listen to that's fine. But but it's not going to hurt you.
Yeah. Did you know that, um, I and you probably know there's this.
There's a there's a. Rather, boogeyman is I'd say he's he's just he's the great preacher and thinker about the prophets, the Church of Prophecy and the Hebrew Bible, he's he's got yes.
And I've read this said, you know, that prophets that we know that even in the tradition he grew up in, kind of liberal Protestantism, there's all this attention to what the prophets did and how they lived and and also that the fierceness of their words, but not the poetry of their words, the aesthetics. And, you know, he said the prophets are always poets and it is in in in speaking in ways that force people to reframe the way they see that that that is in their power, that they're not politicians.
And I think we kind of tend to turn prophets into politicians.
But it's it's I think it's interesting. Yeah. And to focus on their poetry instead is a very different sort of embrace of things they said. Yes. I'm always fascinated when a politician does decide to quote a poem very rarely, very occasionally, of how people tend to like really embrace that whatever metaphor they use, like they want to hug it and talk about it like, oh, we needed that. Like it's given them instead refuge. And even sometimes it's not a very fascinating metaphor.
But, you know, I think how that that kind of speaking so much, speaking occasionally poetry could help it.
Yeah, well, the man also says, you know, a line like I have a dream. Which is just, you know, the language we remember from Martin Luther King, you know, is, you know, it's a line of poetry.
And of course, all kinds of other things were going on and what he was affecting in the world and what he was fighting for. But that that that that ability to be a poet also is part of what made him so powerful and kind of rose above the fray. Oh, that's lovely.
Yes, I think that's true. You know, carrying the dream, carrying something. I think many times poems are about containment and carrying what they carry, what part of us they carry or something unspoken they carry. I was asked recently if if poets feel frustrated because everything is, after all, unsayable, and I said no at all because I think poetry comes closest to the you know, to the the ineffable. And and we appreciate that. We don't have to say everything, but poetry leads us very closely to the to the edge of so many things we would like to think about.
Yeah. Inquietude and solitude. I. You know, I think in your reflections after 9/11 and of course, you were reflecting as an as an Arab-American, you were also very acutely precise about about why why human beings turn to poetry and crisis. And, you know, just echoing what you just said, here's something you said. You know, poetry slows us down, cherishes small details. A large disaster erases those details. Poetry helps us open to experience reopen.
Stay present. It's so hard to absorb or imagine the enormity of disasters, I mean, even when I read in the paper about 27 people here, 52 people here, whatever the sorrowful count is like, that number remains abstract to us. But but if you talk about one person in that group or tell us something personal about them, everything changes. And and, you know, if we could only keep imagining that intrinsic individuality of each thing that's being lost, each thing that's being forfeited because of violence, you know, there was only one thing this continues to fascinate me in that letter to any would be terrorists that I wrote after 9/11.
There was only one thing that really seemed to make American readers angry. And it fascinated me what it was. It was my reference to the violence in our films and our media and our culture promoting for entertainment sake through violence, using violence as a kind of allure that, you know, I was asking the question in the piece, is there something wrong with that, that the same people are so horrified when violence happens? How many movies have they seen that includes scenes like this in recent years, or how are they able to stomach that, you know, on their television sitcom?
And I was I was so intrigued. I was the only thing that made people mad, like, how dare you? What did you what did you think would make people mad?
They were saying, well, I thought people might object at that moment to talking about the humanity of Middle Easterners. You know, I thought people might say, don't tell us anything good about them because they've just done a horrible thing these these these 19 men or whatever. They've done a horrible thing.
And and so we don't want to hear about your cousins and sitting down at the table and your grandmother and what she suffered for your father, how he walked away, behaved, you know, I thought people might object to, you know, how dare you talk about your sweet relatives at a time like this. But no, the one thing they wanted to defend was the violence of American entertainment media. I thought, wow, maybe the problem is greater than I realized.
Um, I think there's so many things I want to talk to you about. Um, you know, so. So. You see this, there's there's 19 varieties of gazelle was was this written was this published after it's published in the 90s, I guess, you know, it was published after September 11th.
But some of the poems in it, I read it on September 11th, but the poems that related to the Middle East had been sort of scattered throughout my work somewhere in magazines, never had been in a book. And so my editor, Virginia Duncan, thought that at that moment, that fraught and tender moment, that it might be good to gather some poems together that connected to the Middle East and and make this book. And some of the poems are written after in the year after 9/11.
But but some were written before. And it was it was interesting to me to put them together and kind of see them in a different light, see them as a family of poems. And, you know, I've always written about different places in the world. So it was it was not as if I was just trying to come up with a book that would and I've continued since this book to write many poems relating to that part of the world.
But yes, but I felt at that moment it was important to gather them together.
I mean, just the last I think these are the final lines or no. Yes. Before the postscript of the final stanza, last I call my father, we talk around the news. It is too much for him. Neither of his two languages can reach it. I drive into the country to find sheep, cows to plead with the air. Who calls anyone civilized? Where can the crying heart graze? What does a true Arab do now? Right, I, I, I love you know, you said a minute ago that poetry allows us to hold.
Hold words and hold things that can't be said, and I said love how poetry allows us to hold questions. Oh, I do too. And that, you know, I, I imagine that question by way of poetry. What is to do now? That's a question that's been out there. I mean, imagine in our culture, for Arab Americans, it's this question.
It's that we're dwelling with all of us collectively, but especially people and and especially people who cherish, you know, an awareness of of another culture, whoever they are. And I think that's why it's so strangely appealing these days to large numbers of people. I don't know who they are.
I don't understand where they're coming from to not to respect someone else's culture. If it doesn't, I'll look just like yours. And that's exactly the opposite of the way that I grew up in the way I like to think about the world. So in the way I feel like the majority of people would prefer to think about this. You know, the minute you place yourself above, what does that do to others? So, yes, I am.
I am. Horrified by the ease with which people may belittle one another these days, as if that were a reasonable thing to do. You also you also published in The Flag of Childhood comes from the Middle East, and it looks to me like this was maybe also published before 2001 and then again in 2001. Does that make that right?
Well, first, we had published a larger a gorgeous anthology edition of The Space Between Our Footsteps. That was a big hardback. That's such a lovely phrase. The space. Oh, it is. So it's so beautiful. In the title poem is Beautiful by Natalie Hurndall and Palestinian American poet who lives in New York City. And it was a wonderful book, a very well-received book. It contained gorgeous paintings by Middle Eastern artists and then the publisher, I think they brought out the paperback after 9/11 because they wanted it to be more available to classrooms where so it was a very cheap paperback, like to nineteen ninety three ninety nine something.
And and I was glad that it found a lot of friends as well. You know, the idea that we need to hear one another's voices now more than ever. And you know, I've always felt that way all my life since early childhood, I've wanted to hear someone, someone else's voice, especially if they came from a place where, you know, I didn't have any history. I didn't know that place. I wanted to hear what would they talk about?
How would they talk about it? That would be fascinating.
Much more interesting than studying the gross national product in another nation, the kinds of things we always studied in the school. I used to think, why are they focusing on this stuff? But, you know, we haven't mentioned this. You also have this fascinating perspective of having like, let me get this right. You're your father. You mostly grew up in Ferguson, Missouri. Well, yeah, I did. It's crazy right now. Your father, after he his family emigrated eventually.
And and so how long were you there until you were 12? Well, I lived in Ferguson until I was fourteen. Fourteen. Yes. And I was born in Greater St. Louis, my mother's home place. My parents met in Kansas, a state which really would it was so random that they even met. I mean, it's like meeting someone at a bus stop practically, because neither one of them had a history in Kansas. They just happened to be there long enough to meet and get married and and then moved back to St.
Louis, where my mother had grown up. But they moved out to Ferguson because it was sort of a little bedroom community to greater, say, downtown St. Louis, where my mother had grown up and and it had big trees and kids could go off on their bikes and ride around all day. And, you know, there was a more a rural quality to Ferguson. And there was also a you know, despite a sense of history, the houses in Ferguson were old.
And it's a it's a wonderful little community. But there was a sense of separation, of course, in the 50s and early 60s. That is what we've seen. You know, the fruits of that come come to be over the years. And yet to think that Ferguson is now a household word representing, you know, injustice is really shocking to those of us who grew up there that, you know, when you wrote this wonderful piece about growing up in Ferguson and then your family immigrated back to Palestine in 1966 for a little while and.
Right. And the echoes between those two places that you called home, the echoes between those two places and they're separated communities.
Right. That was a fascinating parallel. And so I couldn't resist writing that piece, just, you know, meditating on both places where they were in flames that same summer and the sorrow of injustice time in both of them and the power struggles in both places. And I kept wishing my father were alive because I thought he would never believe that Ferguson has come into the international I am this way at the same time as the people of Palestine are also continuing to struggle.
It's mysterious how these these power structures unfold, isn't it, and how we're willing to accept them and allow them to prevail without questioning them. And something I've started saying over the past few years that kind of help me think about it is, you know, I have so many Jewish friends, both in the United States and other countries who would agree with with this. But the idea that there could not be a sort of alliance between big power countries like the United States and and Israel Palestine, that was more equivalent.
Why do you have to have only one friend in the region? That's like the dark side of junior high and junior high. You learn that you could probably have two friends that are not exactly alike and you might survive. And in fact, you'd be a much more interesting person. Why couldn't the United States have two friends? Why couldn't they really look at what oppressions the Palestinians have been living with all these, what, sixty eight years and ask better questions?
You know, I think I think the politicians are just too, too quick to be bought off or whatever they do lobbied.
But if they would listen to the majority of their own people as well and everywhere, maybe they'd be more balanced. My father was always saddened by the imbalance. And as a journalist, he had to report on it so many times.
Yes. And and yet you always write about your father insisting on hope to the end. Yeah. Fiercely hopeful. Yeah. Because he said, what else what else do we have? I mean, if we're going to if we're just going to give up and say, OK, we crumble, we have no more hope, we're victims were bitter. How much fun of a life is that going to be for anyone? For our children? You can't pass that down.
So, yeah, he maintained a joyousness despite.
But, you know, here's another way. You've written about what I feel is kind of a philosophy behind. Your poetry and, um, you know, and you wrote this again about in the aftermath of 2000 of September 11th, but but it applies to all these kinds of examples we've been talking about. You said, you know this since so many people had, that everything has changed. And and you wrote of the necessity of really questioning and interrogating that feeling.
And you wrote, We can continue to remind ourselves of what is important and try to live in ways nourishing for human beings. And continue to nourish our ability to grow in our perceptions to more than we used to know, to empathize with distant situations and sorrows enjoys, that doesn't have to change. Right. I, I have felt so much that. That was the great lost opportunity of 2001 of September 11th for Americans who had momentarily had an experience of what so many people around the world have all the time of.
Right, frailty, fragility, vulnerability in their strongest fortresses. Right, but but you know, that that that quiet, which is, you know, you're saying that a poetic mindset would, you know, give you that space to take that in. Well, and, you know, there were so many people, I think, in the time after. Who tried to empathize more more deeply and who demonstrated against going to war in Iraq, for example.
I managed to be in New York City on the day of the 500000 person march. I mean, that was the final count I ever heard against going to war in Iraq. And it was incredible. I'd never been and, you know, a march of 500000 people through the streets and being with all these people who kept saying, you know, we don't want to go kill other people. Look how our city fell. We don't want to we don't want to bomb other cities.
We don't want to hurt civilians. We don't want we don't want to be part of this. And and the feeling of being completely ignored. It was very haunting at that time. You know, you thought, well, why why is this on the back very back page of The New York Times in the tiniest news item imaginable that this march even happened? Why isn't this a front page headline? This is important. We're trying to have our voices be heard, and that's one of the things our country is famous for.
So why are they not respecting this? And I think there were experiences like that all over the world feeling, you know, we we don't want to do to others more violence, what's been done to us at that time and. Forgetting also how how many things our country has been involved in, you know, there are just so many mysteries about, you know, people wanting to presume their pain has more of a reality than someone else's pain. And, you know, I think all the holy holy persons of all backgrounds and faiths have always called upon us to empathize.
In a more profound way, you know, to stretch our imaginations to what that other person might be experiencing and it sounds so basic, but but these days, when you listen, you know, to the loud voices, you wonder why. What's happened to that? What's happened to the. The awareness that we don't have to be vindictive and can continue on in a cycle of revenge and violence, and every time Yoko Ono appears to have that full page in The New York Times, the war is over.
I'm fascinated by that. You just I think well, I'd love to I'd love to hear her talk about why she continues to do this, because we so much wish it were true. We'd like to be able to say, yes, it's true. I actually kept that postcard that said war is over in that same fight on my wall for years because I so much wanted to believe it. And yet you look at the world and it's not true and you think, you know, is this just is this manifest positive thinking?
Well, she just but so here's what I think your contribution is. I mean, you look at the world, you look at the world in terms of headlines and you look at the world a certain way. And it's not true from a certain angle, from a certain direction.
It seems to me like one of the things you this that again, like what is poetry puts poetry's place. I mean, it seems like one of the things you draw out is, you know, just noticing, paying a different kind of attention to things that are not quite apparent to to the eye. I mean, starting with this the poem and in what book was it, please describe how you became a writer. Oh, right. Yeah. Do you know that do you have it by heart?
I have it right here. OK, would you like me to read it? Yes, it's very short. Yeah. Oh please describe how you became a writer. Possibly. I began writing as a refuge from our insulting first grade textbook. Come, Jane, come look, Dick. Look, were there ever duller people in the world? You had to tell them to look at things. Why weren't they looking to begin with? That was actually written after, you know, some students wrote me a survey about being a writer and that was the first question on their survey.
And so I just wrote them that and I thought, oh, like this by itself. This is good. It's true, too. Yeah.
And right. And so so I think you unfold that on different levels. I mean, somewhere you talk about being a seven year old poet, making petite discoveries. I love that phrase. And again, noticing sing right. Writing. I'm sorry. There's no I like I like the word fitchett. Oh, it's love. And like, you know, there's a poem you wrote about an onion. You know, I couldn't kneel and praise all small, forgotten miracles, like crackly paper peeling on the drain board, pearly layers and smooth agreement.
The way a knife enters onion and onion falls apart on the chopping block, a history revealed.
But then in words, under words, you know, there's another it's a kind of another layer of this. Looking at a childhood picture album and you say, I think of the invisible pictures between the pictures and under them. What was said that made us look that way at just that moment, the gleam of particular's. I mean, this is a way again, we're talking about poetry, but we're also talking about a way of moving through the world.
Hmm. Thank you for noticing that. And, you know, I. I feel it's important to have favorite writers and people whose work you follow through the the trajectory of your life. And I think of people such as William Stafford and W.S. Merwin as having been real guides to me. I mean, they have carried me forward all these years since I first read their work as a teenager. And when was Merwin's Merwyn Conservancy, now in Maui that is working to protect and uphold his beautiful land in which he's created this poem, Refuge of Palm Trees?
To me, that's like a physical, tangible place of particulars. But I think of something in an essay from from William Merwin. And he's lived in many places in his life. He lived in France, England, Mexico, Pennsylvania as a child. But he has a line where he says, I learned from my neighbors everything they would tell me. And I think that sort of appetite for knowing that curiosity, what grows here? What do we need to do?
How can we improve the soil?
Um, it's that's the way that he lived his whole life.
And and right now, you know, his conservancy is we're trying in in his spirit to to conduct, you know, a future plan for this land so that many people will be able to continue to participate in it and glory in it. But I think that's what poetry does for our places. Wherever we are new, it allows us to to cherish what we're given.
Mm hmm. I know your poem kindness has been really important for many people. In fact, there's a there's a friend of our show who's visiting today who's listening in on this interview because she's such an admirer of your work. And somebody sent her that poem Kindness in a moment of tragedy. And, you know, one of those moments when, like, as you wrote, where a large disaster threatens threatens to erase details. Oh, and she said it was a lifeline.
And I I see like reading around that a lot of people have experienced it that way.
It's interesting that would you kind of tell because the back story to that poem doesn't sound like the circumstances under which you would write a poem about kindness. And I said, I'd love for you to just tell that story now and then maybe read it also.
Well, my greetings to your friend there and all people who have felt this poem had something that they could use.
And I really feel amongst all my poems that this was a poem that was given to me. I was simply the secretary for the poem. I wrote it down, but I honestly felt as if it were a female voice speaking in the air across a plaza and probably on Columbia. And my husband and I were on our honeymoon. We had just gotten married one week before here in Texas, and we had this plan to travel in South America for three months.
And at the end of our first week, we were robbed of everything and someone else who was on the bus with us was killed. And he's the Indian in the in the poem. And it was quite a shake shake up of an experience. And we managed to get back to Papillion and it a man came up to us on the street. We're trying to figure out, OK, what do you do? What do you do now? We didn't have passports.
We didn't have money. We didn't have anything. Where do what should we do first? Where do we go? Who do we talk to? You and a man came up to us on the street and was simply kind and just looked at us, I guess could see our disarray in our faces and just asked us in Spanish, you know, what happened to you? And we tried to tell him and he just stared at us. He didn't give us anything.
He didn't offer anything. But he listened to us and he looked so sad. And he said, I'm very sorry. I'm very, very sorry. That happened in Spanish.
And he went on and then we went to this little plaza and I sat down and all I had was the notebook in my back pocket and pencil and and my husband was going to hitchhike off to college, a larger city to see about, you know, getting traveler's checks reinstated. Remember those archaic things? Travelers. Chuckling Yeah, I haven't seen one in years. And so this was also a little worrisome to us because, you know, suddenly we were going to split up.
I was going to stay here and he was going to go there. And we didn't know how long it would take. This was the prison cell phone era. There was no way to contact one another. Now, the whole thing was very sketchy. It's kind of thing parents really worry about with their kids, say they're traveling internationally. So so we certainly didn't want to call home.
But as I sat there alone in a bit of a panic, like coming on trying to figure out what I was going to do next, this voice came across the plaza and spoke this poem to me, spoke it, and I wrote it down. I was just the scribe. So did you want me to read it as I love for you to read it. And let me just say before you read it, I do have to take a little break.
Your bluenose. Yes, OK.
I am what? I love it. I love it for many reasons. But one of them is that kindness is, you know, I think words are fragile to right words, really. Words get used to much. And kindness has been on a few too many bumper stickers. But but it is it is an everyday expression of the greatest virtues and is kind of an instantaneous gratification. Um, and you you really I feel like in this poem, you give it the true complexity and nuance that it has.
Thank you. Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things, feel the future, dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved. All this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride, thinking the bus will never stop. The passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever before you learn the tender gravity of kindness.
You must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he, too, was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive. Before you know, kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow is the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow, you must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore. Only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at Brad. Only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is I have been looking for and then goes with you everywhere, like a shadow or a friend. Hmm, and what I remember about, you know, taking the notes for that poem, and it really didn't change too much over the you know, I didn't rewrite it too much.
Was it the minute I finished writing it down, though? OK, I've taken this I've taken the stenography course here. I've written this down. Now let me look at it. What is it? I knew what to do. I knew three things I could do to make my, you know, survive the next few days or however long it was going to take till I saw my brand new husband again and we figured out what was next. And so I had I had an engine for movement.
So I knew how I might be able to get a little money to get a little food where I might sleep that would be safe. Know, I figured it out just by focusing. And one thing I've I've tried to say to groups over the years, groups of all ages, is that, you know, writing things down, whatever you're writing down, even if you're writing something sad or hard, usually you feel better after you do it. Somehow you're given a sense of, OK, this this mood, this sorrow I'm feeling, this trouble I'm in.
I've given it shape. It's got a shape on the page now so I can stand back. I can look at it, I can think about it a little differently. What do I do now? And very rarely do you hear anyone say they write things down and feel worse. They always say that I wrote things down. You know, this isn't quite finished. I need to work on it. But but they agree that it helped them sort of see their experience, see what they were living.
And that's definitely a gift of writing that is above and beyond, you know, any sort of vocational you know, how much somebody publishes. It's an act that helps you, preserves you, energizes you in the the very doing of it.
Do you think it works as well if you do it on your notes function of your cell phone?
You know, I don't I don't know because I've never done that. I've only written three things down in the notes function. But I do have to say those three things have helped me. I'm glad they're still in there in the phone. Yeah. Yeah, I don't know.
I mean, I've started doing that on my phone. I have. But of course I grew up like you always with a notebook. And actually I interviewed Mary Oliver last year and she said and by the way, she also described the poem Wild Geese, not as a voice coming to her, but basically as something that was just given. She said there are maybe two or three, but that one, she wasn't even thinking. But that's beautiful.
And that poem is so important. It's like kindness. It's a poem that saves lives. It's upon that. It's a form that becomes like an emblem poem people. Right? Yeah, it is.
And that. But she always carries a notebook, right? I mean, that's one of her trademarks. And she said to me, you know, if you if you don't have a notebook, you know, you don't get it again. You have to write things down as they go. That's right. And so I've started carrying a notebook again after twenty years. I think that's great. And you can carry one at any age. You're never too late to start.
You start. Yeah. Yeah. And it's helpful because you can just flip it open and also you can see it in a way that doesn't involve like a battery, you know. Yeah. It's somehow tangible in a different way. So I would, I do encourage kids to to to do that. Last week I was in a classroom in Austin, Texas, where a girl who was apparently going through a really rough spell at home wrote a poem that was definitely tragic and comic, both about kind of everybody was yelling at her in the poem, like from all directions.
She was just kind of suffering in her home place and trying to find peace, trying to find a place to do her homework. But she wrote about this poem and such as she wrote this in such a compelling way that when she read it and read it with gusto and and joy, there were such joyousness in her voice, even though she was describing something that sounded awful when she finished, the girls in her classroom just broke into wild applause. And I saw her face.
She lit up and she said, yeah, I feel better. And I thought, yeah, that's this is such a graphic example of putting words on the page. I saw her kind of gloominess when she came into the room and suddenly she put these words down. She's acknowledged what's going on, what she's facing. She's read it, and people feel very connected to her and they're cheering her on. And so she stuck around. She made me a copy of the piece.
She stuck around and we talked about it. And that feeling of of being connected to someone else when you allow yourself to be very particular is another mystery of writing.
Yes. I also also the mystery of writing that you.
That in the act of doing it, you write things you didn't know, you knew or you didn't know, you thought. Absolutely. That's such a gift. Yeah, I think that happens in a good conversation, too. I do too. I really do. And when you when you hear. Someone speaking in a way that suddenly just opens cracks open more light on on some topic or. It's amazing. Oh, here's something I know I was just looking at, I was looking at amazed me this book that you did Poems for girls, which actually echoes what you just said.
Six words you say, um. I think you're just you're you're you're writing. It's more like prose, but of course, it's poetry, too. You said I if you have a voice and aren't afraid to spend it. What was the title of this? What I learned when I was 12 or something, I'm afraid I don't have a book. That's OK. I haven't. I wrote you you say if you have many voices and let them speak to one another in a friendly fashion.
If you're not too proud to talk to yourself out loud, you will ask the questions pressing against your forehead from the inside. You'll be OK if you write three lines down in a notebook every day and then in parentheses, they don't have to be great or important. They don't have to relate to one another. You don't have to show them to anyone. You will find out what you notice. Uncanny connections will be made visible to you. That's what I started learning when I was 12 and I never stopped learning it.
And, you know, I think many people are encouraged to think you could write that little and still gain something from it.
Yeah, you know that you don't have to be spending an hour and a half to three hours to five hours a day writing to have a meaningful experience with it. It's a very immediate experience. You can sit down and write three sentences. How long does that take?
Three minutes, five minutes and up and be giving yourself a very rare gift of listening to yourself, you know, just finding out when you go back and look at what you wrote and how many times we think, oh, I would never have remembered that if I hadn't written. Yeah, that's right. When and how did that even occur to me? I sort of like it this week and it could help me. And now I know I want to connect it to something else.
Everybody finds it out and, you know, just to encourage others to do it without a. Without a big, massive goal in front of them at all times, you've said that you you read your son to sleep and you also read him awake. I did.
So what would you do? You'd go in and sit by his bed?
Well, you know, when he was around 13, he said, Mom, you don't have to read to me anymore. I can read for myself. And I said, yeah, I know all your all the other parents I know stopped when their kids were like eight or nine. I'm still reading to you, but he was he was sweet and gracious about it. And we did like that reading time at bedtime. And so I paused for a while, maybe a year.
I wasn't reading to him. And and then this this farmer showed up in Oklahoma at a workshop and told us all that he had come just to listen. He just wanted to hear everyone read their work. And we thought, wow, look at this. The wandering audience, he doesn't even want to participate. He just wants to listen. And he said, no, listening is participation. It's very important. And he talked about being a child and being awakened every day by his granddad, who read to the kids in the house as a wake up call every morning, stood in the hallway outside their bedrooms and read poems.
And my brain clicked.
I thought, this is what I'll do for the rest of the time. Our son is at home. Oh, waking him every day with big poems. So we did that for years and I think he really liked it and know people I read a lot were people like Robert Bly, Lucille Clifton, Frank O'Hara, for some reason, Chinese poems, Japanese poems.
And we would occasionally talk about the poems. Later in the day, he'd bring something up about one of the poems I'd read and you know, but I never did it so that we could have a particular conversation. I just did it because, you know, all parents have a moment of the day when you need to get your kid up if they haven't gotten up already and most kids like to loiter in the bed there.
So it was a pleasure to me to hear poems in the air first thing in the morning, be singing them to, you know, our beloved son. And hopefully he'll do that to his son, who turns one month old tomorrow.
Wow. Yeah, I like that, too, because as much as my my my kids are also great big now, but as much as as many kind of lovely memories as I have of reading at the end of the day, you're so tired at the end of the day. And it's it's a nice idea to think about reading and poetry starting the day when you're fresh and when you would take it with you.
It's beautiful, it feels beautiful and you feel better. You, the reader, feel better. And there are also so many other places where this could be appropriate. I met a school principal some years ago and he said to me, Oh, I've always loved poetry, but I can't really use it because I'm just the principal. I said, What are you talking about? Where's the intercom in your school? He said, It's in my office. I said, OK, well, do you have announcements?
Yes, every morning. Why don't you read a poem to start off the day for the entire school? And, you know, I sort of forgot about this encounter with him. And a couple of years later, I went to that school and I thought, wow, I don't know what's going on in the school. I had forgotten that that's where he was. But these kids love poetry. And finally, one of them said to me, well, the announcements every day our principal reads is a poem.
And so we you know, we carry poems with us every day. We have them in our heads. And and one thing interesting was he seemed to have needed a little push since he didn't see himself as a poet, that it would be OK for him to read a poem. Well, why not? And also, he needed a little push that he didn't have to read the whole poem. Like if you wanted to read just a stanza from Ralph Waldo Emerson or just, you know, here's a stanza from Walt Whitman that that was OK.
You didn't have to read the entire poem if you didn't have time. He liked that. But I think he just needed the the encouragement.
Mm. You know, before we before we kind of draw too close and also hear some more of your poems. I, I want to touch a little bit on your father again. Um, would you read the gist on this matter of refugees, which is so resonant now in the world. It is in a new, desperate way. Um, you know, there's something in me that feels like we're kind of it's happening, especially here in America.
It's happening over there, kind of. Um, but I wonder if when people look back 100 years from now, if we're still around at twenty sixteen, if this won't be the thing that was changing the world, that's going to shape the rest of the century. And it seems to me that you. Well, first of all, there's that there's the the opening page of Transfer where you you're kind of dedicating the book to your father, but you.
You're right, you start the passage that starts refugee, not always. Yes, refugee, not always. Once a confident schoolboy strolling Jerusalem's streets, he knew the alleyways, spoke to stones all his life. He would pick up stones and pocket them on some. He drew faces. What do we say in the wake of one who was always homesick, are you home now? Is Palestine peaceful in some dimension we can't see? Do Jews and Arabs share the table is holy in the middle.
Yeah, I mean, again, and it also. Yeah, go ahead. Well, it starts our father, who was always our father, not always our father, you know, and I think many times the way immigrants, people look at immigrants with such a a sense of diminishment as if this person is less than I am because they've left their country. Well, I actually think they're more than we are because they're braver. They've gone some other place.
They have to operate in another language. How easy would that be? You know, if I had to go to China today and start living in China and doing everything in Chinese, it would be very, very hard. So you think about the bravery of these people and and the desperation with which they're trying to to find a realm of safety for their families. And, you know, just the basic safety that we take for granted every day we get up.
And I don't know I don't know how how a world with so many resources and so many religious traditions and good hopes, how we can keep doing these things to one another in the world that create refugee populations. I mean, it just seems outrageous. Why is that happening so much? Yeah, I think that's another one of those questions we have to sit with. And yeah, I mean, here's just some lines from another history poem and that book transfer.
We were born to wander, to grieve, lost lineage, what we did to one another on a planet so wide open for doing so wide open. So much we could do always. So many surprising moves a person, a country could make that might be imaginative, that might, you know, encourage positive behavior instead of negative.
Yeah, yeah. And. I don't know, maybe the magnitude of this moment forces us to rise to the occasion.
Well, human beings do that every once in a while, too. I hope so.
Yeah, I hope so. And I hope, you know, that that mysterious rising to one's better self, which was a concept that really perplexed me as a child, my mother would say, especially if I'd been in some kind of mischief at school, which occasionally happened because I wasn't always focused on Jack and boring and Jane.
Jane. Yeah. The boy, Dick and Jane, I was trying to get away from them all the time. And so I would get in a little trouble. And, um, and my mother would say to me, you know, her charge to me, be your best self. And I don't think, wow, what is that self? Where is it? Where is it tucked away? Where do I keep it when I'm not being it?
And are you your best self is my teacher her best self. And, you know, that was just something intriguing to me, that we had more than one self that we could operate out of. And and I think one nice thing about writing is that you get to encounter you get to meet these other selves which continue on in your child's self, your older self. You're confused self, your self. That makes a lot of mistakes, you know, and find some gracious way to have a community in there inside that would would help you survive.
Yeah, that that poetry has conversation. That's right, writing is a way of having conversation between those different selves inside you. Yes, that's nice.
I think so. Hmm. And and that's a big thing. I mean, that's not to be underestimated, that it's important to do that.
This probably won't be in the show, but I just want to note it because, I mean, you you write about so many places you go and that the word gravity is important to you. And I it seems to me it's a big word for you. And it seems to me it's often related to a sense of place. I mean, I don't think it's always just about place. But how would you how would you what does that mean in your imagination?
You know, my father felt like a wanderer, like he was always, you know, wandering around and and I always felt like a wanderer that that we have so many places we could explore and learn about. But but I think you can feel all kinds of gravity, you know, wherever you are every day in different ways. And and often through human contact, you find your best gravity, you know, a real conversation with someone. Just a simple, simple exchange of words can give you a sense of gravity taking along.
I've always loved the the definition for contemplation, a long, loving look. And when you take a long loving look anywhere, you feel sort of more bonded with whatever you've looked at and you feel as if, you know, you recognize it, you see it, maybe it sees you back and and you're participating in a world where it exists.
And so feeling that sense of of gravity and belonging everywhere is important.
That's what you do.
I think you cleave a kind of global passport, I guess it might be. And this young woman in Kuwait this morning on the Skype class I did she was saying that she was Palestinian, had never been to Palestine, born in Jordan, had never seen Jordan, was taken to Kuwait as a baby and raised in Kuwait. Now, she was a college senior and she said, and I don't belong to any of these places. And I feel so like adrift and I'm not accepted in any of these places.
And I said, you know, my hope for you would it would be that you could find a way to live, a way to be a voice to use where you feel at home in all of them. And I think there is a way to do that. You know, she could find, you know, as readers and writers, we find a certain home in books and language, literature that, you know, like I hear of Mary Oliver poem, and it's as if I've been her neighbor because I've read so many different things, even though I've never spent a day in her town, maybe one day sometime.
But but so, you know, we we abide with one another. We find through images ways to be together. So my hope for that girl was not that she would feel, you know, alienated forever from all her places, but that she could find a way to be so much herself and let those parts of herself continue the dialogue through writing or through whatever she chooses to do. But I do think writing would really help in her case, would help her, you know, to feel an identity so.
Well, yeah. So that's fabulous. And that probably will be in the show.
But when I said so what I said won't that it just flows perfectly because so, so you, you do that, you claim that gravity in places you go. And I just this is the thing that feels personal. The one that I really loved was about the Isle of Mull in Scotland, which is a place that was really important to me at one point. Really. Yeah, kind of transformative.
And and it just so it's a magic place, isn't it? It's magic. And then it's totally magic. You captured that, you say and these are just some lines of the primary right there, because by now we know that everything is not so green elsewhere.
Right. And it and no one saw we were there and everyone who had ever been there stood silently in er in the er where else do we ever have to go and why.
And that just, I mean the capturing, there's so much in there, the greenness, the also the acting, the way we can fall in love with places and it doesn't mean we have to like we can love them and, and we can let them go but somehow they stay part of us and absolutely no you don't have to land on land there.
You don't have to have an answer that you can you can have that feeling like why would I ever want to be anywhere else? And that. Exactly. But also this. No one saw we were there and everyone who had ever been there is standing silently in the air. It is one of those places. And there are many places like this in the world where you feel these layers of life.
Mm hmm. Yeah. And I think one of the great one of the great mysteries of human life is presence and absence. You know how close we feel to people we can't see anymore or how many people we can be with without feeling terrible. We're close to them and, you know, curiosity about presence and what it is, what it gives us, how we make it, how we could improve it. And then in large collective ways as well as individually.
But, you know, being in the solitude of mall and being there with my son and mother. So three generations of us for two weeks in such a remote rural place, knowing no one and feeling so absolutely. At home. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's a it's an amazing, amazing experience to have that somewhere and to know you could keep having it different places. Yeah. Yeah.
So. Also, have you ever been in a place where you'd like the word, the name, I mean, to mull things over? It's such a great well, and I read today there little islands there.
Yeah. And, uh. Oh, gosh, what am I spacing out on the island of Columbia.
And I know well there's I own my own stuff. Yeah. All those islands are there. Yeah. That and they all stuff is the one that's only inhabited by birds.
By puffins. Yeah. I mean it's a it's a magical part of the world. Yeah. Yeah.
So your. You're a refugee, you're a Palestinian refugee father, you know, you you say in this country over and over again, but as you wrote about him at the end of his life after he died, you know, he loved the world. The world frustrated him endlessly, but he loved it and he hoped for it. Yeah. You know, there's this beautiful line. He never gave up hope. Everything depended on me to respect. The sadness of my father was a land mass underwater.
Um, I want to ask you about the substance of hope for you. Oh, thank you for for asking that, you know, right now, living in Texas, it's spring and everything is bursting forth. I mean, things we had even forgotten. We planted things we don't remember the derivation of where did that come from?
All these things are popping up and bursting open and the air smells very sweet with this wonderful tree we have down here called Mt. Laurel. And there's kind of an intoxicating feeling of of spring opens, opens up like all these flowers open their faces to the sky. And and then we have the amazing fields and fields and miles and miles of wildflowers in Texas. And just that that sense of return, restoration energy coming back out of the soil. And so I think, you know, the the gift of of daily life, which is our treasure, as long as we live, hopefully there are days with all the simple tasks and errands to be fulfilled, but also moments of apprehension that are greater than those tasks and errands or moments of apprehension that come through those tasks.
And, you know, people used to ask me a lot when I was younger. Why do you write about common things normal, like regular little things? And I said, well, what do you have in your life? I mean, I'm not living like in Star Trek. I have common things in my life.
What else do I have to add? But I don't think that the things are themselves common. You know, I think I think it's a miracle that that anything works. You know, I still look thinking about Flint, Michigan, a lot these days. I think I think about the miracle of plumbing a lot and the and the all the mysteries we don't see under the soil, the pipes, the wires, the wireless connections. Now, I mean, just thinking about everything that's going on, kind of like when you're a child fascinated by all the stuff that's going on inside your body and you didn't have to tell it to do that.
Like I used to think my stomach is when I'm digesting right now, I didn't have to tell it to do that. I just did it. That's incredible. Or the heart beating or the blood rolling through the veins and you think, wow, you know, all this stuff goes on.
That's not commonplace to me. That's that's miraculous. It's amazing. And. So writing is a way that we're continually, continuously restored to that and reading other people's work being restored to that, I've been reading Ruth Ozeki, A Tale of a Time Being, which takes place between Canada and Japan and back and forth. Yes, just yeah, I love that book and I love her work and just think I've never met her, never seen her. But but I feel so close to the sensibilities that she she writes out of these characters and their questions and the mysteries, you know, one life to another.
Why am I suddenly connected to another person I never heard of a week ago? How could you ever feel too old or too dull in a world like that?
Oh, that's great. Wonderful. Um, OK, well, let's let's I'd love to hear some of your poetry and then, you know, when we produce this, we can weave it together a little bit more as well. OK, um, sure. Well, here are just some that I wrote down and now I will confess. I did not memorize all of them. So I just know right now that I loved it and I can't tell you.
So one of them was we just look at it. Oh. Two countries was one from words under the words, cross that line, do you value yours with you? I have. Yes, I do. I have you and yours. And the first one you said was two countries. Yeah, and I don't. And you can't. And so I'll just tell you some of the others and, you know, you want one. So one of them was the sweet Arab.
The generous Arab. Yes. I'd like to read that. OK, yeah. Very much OK. Yeah. So and then others like I think these are all from transfer member of the tribe alive and your. That was OK. I didn't write down your list here.
I'll read, but I'm happy for you also to throw some in that you feel you know there for you feel good coming out of this country.
They all feel I'll be happy to read any of them that you said, oh, OK, here's two countries. Skin remembers how long the years grow when skin is not touched, a grey 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. Eight walked, slept by itself, knew how to raise a see you later. And 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 Ropen skin had hope.
That's what skin does. Heals over the scarred place makes a road. Love means you breathe in to countries and skin remembers silk spiny grass deep in the pocket that is skin secret. Only even now, when skin is not alone, it remembers being alone and thinks something larger. That there are travelers, that people go places larger than themselves. And cross that line is an important poem to me, because I loved Paul Robeson so much as a child, I loved his voice.
We have a record of him singing. And, you know, I wouldn't read his biography till I was an adult and know about what he suffered as a so-called communist and how his passport was taken away from him. And he was not allowed to leave the nation, though. He had a huge fan club in Europe and elsewhere. So I thought this was so funny when he did this. And I now own a CD of this concert.
Really? Yeah, someone sent it to me. That is some archival recording. Pretty amazing. Cross that line. Paul Robeson stood on the northern border of the USA and sang into Canada, where a vast audience sat on folding chairs waiting to hear him. He sang into Canada. His voice left the USA when his body was not allowed to cross that line. Remind us again, brave friend, what countries may we sing into? What lines should we all be crossing?
What songs travel toward us from far away to deepen our days? Of course, I think so many of them so so many songs, so many songs we could exchange coming towards us from everywhere, now we'll have to help me tell me from transfers and that the sweet air of the generous you sweet Arabiyah here that.
Oh, do you think? I think. Yes.
This is the kind of poem. This is the kind of. Language and writing that you offer into. You know, a moment where where so many of our words dehumanize and again, you come back to that that notion of yours, that a large disaster erases details and it kind of reasserts the beauty of the details and the necessity of the details. I have to say, I really liked even putting the words into this title because to me, they they emphasized, you know, a beauty of a culture that I felt privileged to know from the inside, but I felt so saddened for all the people who didn't feel invited there.
But they could be the sweet Arab. The generous Arab. Since no one else is mentioning you enough, the Arab who extends his hand, the Arab who will not let you pass his tiny shop without a welcoming word, the refugee inviting us in for a cook, clean glasses on a table in a ramshackle hut. Those who don't drink coke would drink it. Now we drink from the silver flask of hospitality. We drink and you bow your head.
Please forgive everyone who has not honored your name, you who would not kill a mouse, a bird who feels sad, sometimes even cracking an egg, who places two stones on top of one another for a monument, who packed the pieces, carried them to a new corner for whom the words rubble and blast are constants, who never wanted those words to be able to say, this is a day and I live in it safely. With those I love was all who has been hurt but never hurt in return.
Fathers and grandmothers, uncles, the little lost cousin who wanted only to see a Ferris wheel in his lifetime, ride it high into the air and all the gaping days they bought no tickets for spinning them around. One of the sweetest, kindest countries my husband and I ever had an opportunity to travel in was Syria, and I think about how many people came and searched us out just to be friendly and take us on walks and show us mystical, magical things in their own domains and.
You know, I knew I knew something of troubles that had happened in Syria before those days in the 80s when we were there, but to hear the news coming from that beautiful historic country over the past few years has been just staggeringly painful and grievous beyond compare and constantly wondering what happened to all those kind people and how could anyone be doing this to one another? I mean, it's such a wreckage. For what? For what is gained. Yeah.
Yeah. And I think you said some in transfer as well. Yeah, a member of the tribe, which kind of takes that on in a different direction. Yes, and I think an instructive one. A member of the tribe and this that was a phrase that I found in the middle of a page, an otherwise blank page in one of my father's notebooks after he died. So when the poll came out, it sort of came out in his voice.
And I don't understand, you know, everything about this at all, but it felt like his voice member of the tribe, unfortunately it's true. Like it or not, educated or not, this is one of the many things Americans don't understand about Iraq. Kill a member of the tribe. The whole tribe now hates you. How could they not? The Americans think they hate you today. Thank you. Tomorrow tribes are like tape recorders they won't forget.
Don't ask me how Arabs kill Arabs knowing this. As for Afghanistan, I don't understand that at all. I don't understand so many things. Still, we must tell what we know. That definitely sounds like my father to me. He spoke in short sentences always as a journalist. He preferred them. He didn't have a lot of adjectives, adverbs, embellishments. But, you know, he would put something out there like a straight little fact. Like if you do that, this will happen.
I don't understand it, but I'm telling you it will happen. And often as a journalist, he was forced, you know, to record to write about all these things happening in the world. But of course, as a journalist, unless you're an op ed columnist, you can't give your opinion about it. But I knew so many times when I would read his stories, he wanted to put some opinions in there. See, I told you this would happen.
I shouldn't do this. This is wrong.
Yeah. Um, so the other two would maybe be alive and India.
Yes, sure. What was the last one you said and India. Was that the one you wrote about. Oh, endure the Mahamoud. Are we sure you said yes. It alive is a funnier poem. Which which I like. I like funny. I like Uber but hopefully there's also some something resonant in and of another kind.
Alive, Dear Abby said someone from Oregon, I'm having trouble with my boyfriend's attachment to an ancient gallon of milk still full in his refrigerator. I told him it's me or the milk. Is this unreasonable? Dear Carolyn, my brother won't speak to me because 50 years ago, I whispered a monkey would kidnap him in the night to take him back to his true family, but he should have known it was a joke when it didn't happen. Don't you think?
Dear Board of Education, no one will ever remember a test repeat stories, poems, projects, experiments, mischief. Yes, but never a test. Dear dog behind the fence, you really need to calm down now. You have been barking every time I walk to the compost for two years and I have not robbed your house. Relax.
When I asked the man on the other side if you bother him, too, he smiled and said no. He makes me feel less alone. Should I be more worried about the dog or the man?
And the door was written to a great hero of so many of us. Mahmoud Darwish, the great Palestinian poet who died too early in his life. He died in Texas, actually, which was very shocking, where he needed heart surgery and he was such a valiant and gracious soul. And so this poem is for him. I was hearing his poems all of my life, but I only met him toward the end of his life and had a chance to read, read with him, read his English translations, and he read the Arabic endure for Mahmoud Darwish, 1942 to 2008.
Mahmud, so spare inside his elegant suit, stepped across stony fields bent to brush the petal of a flower, didn't pick it, closed his eyes, though, holding one hand with the other, carrying the presence of Blossom back to the page. For those who would never walk a field, never bend down, he found a way to carry the cry of a lost goat and the cry of a people without stumbling. Don't forget the streaks of tears mapping his soft cheeks, his large and somber glasses.
The energy spoke of his thin shoulders, how he stood a bit to the side, hand over heart, his delicate hand on the stem of a glass, toasting the roads and the wandering winds. Mothers and fathers enduring without justice felt his dapper presence sustaining them, though they might have found it hard to name the unchosen beauty of struggle and love, mixing in a fresh tonic. And he might drink. His brilliance spilled in every language, though Arabic owned him, he became a perfect country moving through the world wherever he was, and he, its ruler, teacher and prophet, he its infinite dusty workers pausing with shovels to stare beyond the ruin they could see.
To what they will always believe in. You know, I have to say that one of the greatest days of my own life will remain the day the Lennon Foundation out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, gave Mahmoud Darwish the Cultural Freedom Award and to be present to see him accept that award with such. He was so touched by that. And for me as an American to see an American supportive group of literary wizards, you know, honor him in that way, that was probably my most touching day.
Well, maybe this is just been such a pleasure and an honor and an incredible way to spend an hour and a half and it will be wonderful to put it out into the world. So thank you so much. Is there anything you'd want to read that you absolutely want to read? Oh, no, I'm fine. And Krista, thank you for your provocative and elegant questions. I loved hearing your voice and getting the honor to speak with you. And please tell Lily that I do not retain any negative feelings about Columbia whatsoever.
She has been worried about that. So I tell her thank you. So now we can all bring it to her.
I would go back there.
I would love to see Columbia again and again. And it's just been such an honor to talk to you.
And I hope to meet you someday in Minnesota to think about coming to see us. And thank you. You're so sweet. Thank you so much. OK.
All right. Bye bye. Bye.