Photo by Micah DeBenedetto of MD Photography


by 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 is a Palestinian/American poet, songwriter, and novelist who regards herself as a “wandering poet.” She has won many awards and fellowships, among them four Pushcart Prizes, the Jane Addams Children’s Book award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, many notable book citations from the American Library Association, and has been a Witter Bynner Fellow, a Lannan Fellow, and a Guggenheim Fellow. In June 2009 Nye was named one of’s first peace heroes. (Annotated biography of Naomi Shihab Nye courtesy of, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: This poem, in the scene it paints, feels almost tactile to me. I relate to both the stranger and the host. I see the red brocade pillow, I taste the tea with fresh snipped mint. The poem also flawlessly grapples with such larger themes as human kindness and interaction as well as the empty hustle and bustle of modern life.

Today’s post is dedicated to my mother. May this poem guide you on your journey to Israel, and may its energy and yours inspire peace.

Want to read more by and about Naomi Shihab Nye
The Poetry Foundation
Interview on
The Steven Barclay Agency

About Sivan Butler-Rotholz

Sivan is the Managing Editor of the Saturday Poetry Series on As It Ought To Be and holds an MFA from Brooklyn College. She is a professor, writer, editor, comic artist, and attorney emerita. She is also the founder of Reviving Herstory. Sivan welcomes feedback, poetry submissions, and solicitations of her writing via email at sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com.
This entry was posted in Naomi Shihab Nye, Saturday Poetry Series and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. nan wisman says:

    a beautiful poem. this one i could understand and totally appreciate. a lovely tribute to your mother.

  2. Lezlie says:

    Beautiful, Sivan.

  3. maya elashi says:

    what an honor to have this (peace) dedicated to me! and, yes, may my very presence renew the dialogue for peace in the ME, and in the world! All Blessings, your ma.

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