You Are Your Own State Department

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye

Each day I miss Japanese precision. Trying to arrange things
the way they would. I miss the call to prayer
at Sharjah, the large collective pause. Or
the shy strawberry vendor with rickety wooden cart,
single small lightbulb pointed at a mound of berries.
In one of China’s great cities, before dawn.

Forever I miss my Arab father’s way with mint leaves
floating in a cup of sugared tea—his delicate hands
arranging rinsed figs on a plate. What have we here?
said the wolf in the children’s story
stumbling upon people doing kind, small things.
Is this small monster one of us?

When your country does not feel cozy, what do you do?
Teresa walks more now, to feel closer to her
ground. If destination within two miles, she must
hike or take the bus. Carries apples,
extra bottles of chilled water to give away.
Kim makes one positive move a day for someone else.
I’m reading letters the ancestors wrote after arriving
in the land of freedom, words in perfect English script. . .
describing gifts they gave one another for Christmas.
Even the listing seems oddly civilized,
these 1906 Germans. . . hand-stitched embroideries for dresser
tops. Bow ties. Slippers, parlor croquet, gold ring, “pretty

How they comforted themselves! A giant roast
made them feel more at home.
Posthumous medals of honor for
coming, continuing—could we do that?
And where would we go?
My father’s hope for Palestine
stitching my bones, “no one wakes up and
dreams of fighting around the house”—

somebody soon the steady eyes of children in Gaza,
yearning for a little extra electricity
to cool their lemons and cantaloupes, will be known.
We talked for two hours via Google Chat,
they did not complain once. Discussing stories,
books, families, a character who does
what you might do.
Meanwhile secret diplomats are what we must be,
as a girl in Qatar once assured me,
each day slipping its blank visa into our hands.

Last updated October 02, 2022