Naomi Shihab Nye


He wanted to be remembered so he gave people things 
they would remember him by. A large trunk, handmade of 
ash and cedar. A tool box with initials shaped of scraps. 
A tea kettle that would sing every morning,
antique glass jars to fill with crackers, noodles, beans.
A whole family of jams he made himself from the figs and berries 
that purpled his land.

He gave these things unexpectedly. You went to see him 
and came home loaded. You said “Thank you” till your lips 
grew heavy with gratitude and swelled shut.
Walking with him across the acres of piney forest,
you noticed the way he talked to everything, a puddle, a stump, 
the same way he talked to you.
“I declare you do look purty sittin’ there in that field
reflectin’ the light like some kind of mirror, you know what?”
As if objects could listen.
As if earth had a memory too.

At night we propped our feet by the fireplace
and laughed and showed photographs and the fire remembered 
all the crackling music it knew. The night remembered
how to be dark and the forest remembered how to be mysterious 
and in bed, the quilts remembered how to tuck up under our chins. 
Sleeping in that house was like falling down a deep well,
rocking in a bucket all night long.

In the mornings we’d stagger away from an unforgettable breakfast 
of biscuits—he’d lead us into the next room
ready to show us something or curl another story into our ear.
He scrawled the episodes out in elaborate longhand
and gave them to a farmer’s wife to type.
Stories about a little boy and a grandfather,
chickens and prayer tents, butter beans and lightning.
He was the little boy.
Some days his brain could travel backwards easier than it could 
sit in a chair, right there.

When we left he’d say “Don’t forget me! You won’t forget me now, 
will you?” as if our remembering could lengthen his life.
I wanted to assure him, there will always be a cabin in our blood 
only you live in. But the need of remembrance silenced me,
a ringing rising up out of the soil’s centuries, the ones 
who plowed this land, whose names we do not know.