My Father and the Fig Tree

My Father and the Fig Tree

by Naomi Shihab Nye

For other fruits, my father was indifferent.
He’d point at the cherry trees and say,
“See those?  I wish they were figs.”
In the evening he sat by my beds
weaving folktales like vivid little scarves.
They always involved a figtree.
Even when it didn’t fit, he’d stick it in.
Once Joha was walking down the road
and he saw a fig tree.
Or, he tied his camel to a fig tree and went to sleep.
Or, later when they caught and arrested him,
his pockets were full of figs.

At age six I ate a dried fig and shrugged.
“That’s not what I’m talking about! he said,
“I’m talking about a fig straight from the earth –
gift of Allah! —  on a branch so heavy
it touches the ground.
I’m talking about picking the largest, fattest,
sweetest fig
in the world and putting it in my mouth.”
(Here he’d stop and close his eyes.)

Years passed, we lived in many houses,
none had figtrees.
We had lima beans, zucchini, parsley, beets.
“Plant one!” my mother said.
but my father never did.
He tended garden half-heartedly, forgot to water,
let the okra get too big.
“What a dreamer he is.  Look how many
things he starts and doesn’t finish.”

The last time he moved, I got a phone call,
My father, in Arabic, chanting a song
I’d never heard. “What’s that?”
He took me out back to the new yard.
There, in the middle of Dallas, Texas,
a tree with the largest, fattest,
sweetest fig in the world.
“It’s a figtree song!” he said,
plucking his fruits like ripe tokens,
emblems, assurance
of a world that was always his own.

(from19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East)

Published in: on June 21, 2009 at 6:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Song

The Song
By Naomi Shihab Nye

From somewhere
a calm musical note arrives.
You balance it on your tongue,
a single ripe grape,
till your whole body glistens.
In the space between breaths
you apply it to any wound
and the wound heals.

Soon the nights will lengthen,
you will lean into the year
humming like a saw.
You will fill the lamps with kerosene,
knowing somewhere a line breaks,
a city goes black,
people dig for candles in the bottom drawer.
You will be ready. You will use the song like a match.
It will fill your rooms
opening rooms of its own
so you sing, I did not know
my house was this large.

(from one of my all time favorite books. I’d take it with me on a dessert Island. Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. When I heard her give a reading a few years ago in Santa Barbara, it was life-changing.)

Published in: on March 12, 2009 at 5:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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