Making a Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.
“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”
Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
On My Own Two Feet
For the infinite time, in a classroom on the northeast outskirts of Philadelphia,
I felt the knowledge slipping from my grip,
a stream in the mountains, impossible to dam.
I was twenty-five, I sit in my chair
watching hand after hand shoot in the air, elevating the conversation.
My mind was a baby artichoke discovering its layers.
“How do you know if you are going to live?”
I begged no one.
We had been learning for months.
With a sincere jest, everyone said,
“When you can no longer hold on.”
Days later I smile to know the journey,
the boundaries we must push to break the safeguards
of our insecurities, the stubbornness of our convictions.
I who did not live otherwise, who is still letting go,
still sitting in my chair pondering all the answers,
raising and lowering my hand in the air.