Olive JarBy Naomi Shihab NyeIn 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.
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
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
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
We will eat cabbage rolls, rice with sugar and milk,
crisply sizzled eggplant. When the olives come
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.