Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Olive Jar,” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Olive Jar
 
By Naomi Shihab Nye
In the corner of every Arab kitchen,
an enormous plastic container
of olives is waiting for another meal.
Green tight-skinned olives,
planets with slightly pointed ends—
after breakfast, lunch, each plate
hosts a pyramid of pits in one corner.
Hands cross in the center
of the table over the olive bowl.
If there are any left they go back to
the olive jar to soak again with sliced lemon and oil.
Everyone says
it was a good year for the trees.At the border an Israeli crossing-guard asked
where I was going in Israel.
To the West Bank, I said. To a village of
olives and almonds.
To see my people.

What kind of people? Arab people?

Uncles and aunts, grandmother, first and second
cousins. Olive-gatherers.

Do you plan to speak with anyone? he said.
His voice was harder
and harder, bitten between the teeth.

I wanted to say, No, I have come all this way
for a silent reunion.
But he held my passport in his hands.
Yes, I said, We will talk a little bit. Families and
weddings,
my father’s preference in shoes, our grandmother’s
love for sweaters.
We will share steaming glasses of tea,
the sweetness filling our throats.
Someone will laugh long and loosely,
so tears cloud my voice: O space of ocean waves,
how long you tumble between us, how little you
dissolve.

We will eat cabbage rolls, rice with sugar and milk,
crisply sizzled eggplant. When the olives come
sailing past
in their little white boat, we will line them
on our plates
like punctuation. What do governments have to do
with such pleasure? Question mark.
YES I love you! Swooping exclamation.
Or the indelible thesis statement:
it is with great dignity
we press you to our lips.

-Naomi Shihab Nye, from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East. Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins. 2005.
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Author:

The Center for Poetry opened in the fall of 2007 to encourage the reading, writing, and discussion of poetry and to create an awareness of the place and power of poetry in our everyday lives. We think about this in a number of ways, including through readings, shows, community outreach, and workshops. We are at work building a poetry community at MSU and in the greater Lansing area. Contact: cpoetry@msu.edu (517) 884-1932 http://www.poetry.rcah.msu.edu

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