What Doesn’t Change

Written by Arab-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye , the poem below is launched in a childish tone, but closes in a distinctly mature voice. For me, this combination of child/adult voices is what makes the poem interesting, what makes it work. Otherwise, the piece stands the risk of being another doe-eyed “barrio” poem.
But it is not. It is a rather masterful poem representative of Nye’s highly respected and abundant body of work.
Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change
Roselva says the only thing that doesn’t change
is train tracks. She’s sure of it.
The train changes, or the weeds that grow up spidery
by the side, but not the tracks.
I’ve watched one for three years, she says,
and it doesn’t curve, doesn’t break, doesn’t grow.


Peter isn’t sure. He saw an abandoned track
near Sabinas, Mexico, and says a track without a train
is a changed track. The metal wasn’t shiny anymore.
The wood was split and some of the ties were gone.


Every Tuesday on Morales Street
butchers crack the necks of a hundred hens.
The widow in the tilted house
spices her soup with cinnamon.
Ask her what doesn’t change.


Stars explode.
The rose curls up as if there is fire in the petals.
The cat who knew me is buried under the bush.


The train whistle still wails its ancient sound
but when it goes away, shrinking back
from the walls of the brain,
it takes something different with it every time.

The Cows

Years of going to the farm

Years of taking the walk with your mother, guests and guards

From the warm house to the horses you mostly go down

For an hour with your mother, guests, and guards


Fenced by black wood and electric wire

The narrow path has hills on both sides

An indigo lake at the end of each end

Fresh water springs and bridges that cross


Today I made the descent in thirty-five

No talk, no guards

Fast past the pregnant cows that moan

Took a stick to repel the dirty dogs


But on the climb back to the house

A herd of cows was using my path

With my stick I bent electric wire

And sat in a pasture to wait for the cows


During my wait the grass moved in waves

And I watched white clouds drift by

But I knew it would sound dumb

If I wrote it down just like that


So I sat in a field to think of ways

To thank the walk and the cows for the wait

But when I got up to a path blackened by shit

I lost all hope for the scope of this poem



This very casual poem was recently published by Empty Mirror Books. Happy weekend to all!

The End

I finished reading Ian McEwan’s “The Comfort of Strangers” this past weekend and am still spooked. But, it was so deliciously and erotically dark that I can hardly lament its disastrous end. 

I usually stay away from noir/horror but this novel was short enough for me to enter and exit unscathed. Plus, it offers a valuable lesson: keep clear of unsolicited tour giudes, especially if you are hot. 

Nothing My Thumbs Press Will Ever Be Heard

I keep coming back to this poem by British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy again and again.

There is a myth among poetry writers that poets will only ever write a few perfect poems. Well, I think this is part of her (quite ample) list of absolutely perfect poems.  It is from her collection “Rapture,” which won the T.S. Elliot Prize and should be on every poetry fan’s bookshelf.

I tend the mobile now
like  an injured bird

We text, text, text
our significant words.

I re-read your first,
your second, your third,

look for your small xx,
feeling absurd.

The codes we send
arrive with a broken chord.

I try to picture your hands,
their image is blurred.

Nothing my thumbs press
will ever be heard.