Red Brocade by Naomi Shihab Nye

Red Brocade

Naomi Shihab Nye

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

 Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine Nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

 No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

 I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea. 

© 2002 by Naomi Shihab Nye, from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East.


Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri. Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother a Swiss-German-American . She spent her adolsecnece in Ramallah, Palestine; the Old City in Jerusalem; and San Antonio, Texas. Her experiences of cultural difference weaves throughout her writings. She is known for bringing a fresh perspective to the ordinary within her writing.

She earned her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas where she continues to live and work.

Naomi told Contemporary Authors: “ I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late – there’s that rich possibility of noticing more in the meantime . . . poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.”

I hope you enjoy Naomi’s poem and that you go out and explore more of her writings. I hope we all take a breath and pause to notice the shimmer of abundance that surrounds us. . . . Let us pause and feed each other, nurture each other until we are such good friends that we don’t care about the past or the details, that we simply cherish the humanity and dignity of each other. Let us take the time to brew a cup of fairness and justice for each other even as we snip fresh mint for that tea.

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