Shining Rock Poetry Anthology

"The Small Vases from Hebron" by Naomi Shihab Nye

Tip their mouths open to the sky.  
Turquoise, amber,
the deep green with fluted handle,  
pitcher the size of two thumbs,  
tiny lip and graceful waist.

Here we place the smallest flower  
which could have lived invisibly  
in loose soil beside the road,  
sprig of succulent rosemary,
bowing mint.

They grow deeper in the center of the table.

Here we entrust the small life,  
thread, fragment, breath.  
And it bends. It waits all day.
As the bread cools and the children  
open their gray copybooks  
to shape the letter that looks like  
a chimney rising out of a house.

And what do the headlines say?

Nothing of the smaller petal
perfectly arranged inside the larger petal
or the way tinted glass filters light.  
Men and boys, praying when they died,
fall out of their skins.
The whole alphabet of living,  
heads and tails of words,
sentences, the way they said,  
"Ya'Allah!" when astonished,  
or "ya'ani" for "I mean"--
a crushed glass under the feet
still shines.        
But the child of Hebron sleeps
with the thud of her brothers falling  
and the long sorrow of the color red.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "The Small Vases from Hebron" from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions
Company, Inc. on behalf of BOA Editions Ltd.,

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