Naomi Shihab Nye: KINDNESS

Artwork: "Hope V1", Anna Avlevytska, 2021 (source)
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, 1994
By Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye: KINDNESS

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 as 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 mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

©1995 Naomi Shihab Nye

Artwork: “Eternal Waters”, Autumn Sky, 2018 (source)

“Wandering Poet” Naomi Shihab Nye Headlines Lowell Memorial Poetry Reading
John O’Rourke
Nov 5 2019
...Nye is best known for her poem “Kindness,” which came to her unbidden, she says, while she and her husband were on their honeymoon in Colombia decades ago. While on a bus trip, they and the other passengers were robbed and one man was killed and left by the roadside. They were wandering around the town, trying to get their bearings, when a man approached and kindly asked what had happened to them. After learning of their ordeal, he told them in Spanish how sorry he was for what they had experienced. 

That evening, sitting alone in the town plaza (her husband was trying to get new traveler’s checks), Nye says she heard an invisible woman’s voice, literally “speaking the poem across the air, as if a voice was trying to calm me.”
Naomi Shihab Nye performing her work

One thought on “Naomi Shihab Nye: KINDNESS”

Leave a Reply