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Cover of Naomi Shibab Nye's 19 VARIETIES OF GAZELLE
10.11.02
Arts and Culture:
Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye
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Naomi Shihab Nye, is an American, an Arab, a Poet, a parent, a woman of Texas, a woman of ideas. The daughter of a Palestinian father and an American mother, she's lived in old Jerusalem, in St. Louis, and now with her own family in San Antonio, Texas.

My Father and the Fig Tree

For other fruits, my father was indifferent.
He'd point at the cherry trees and say,
"See those? I wish they were figs."
In the evening he sat by my beds
weaving folktales like vivid little scarves.
They always involved a figtree.
Even when it didn't fit, he'd stick it in.
Once Joha1 was walking down the road and he saw a fig tree.
Or, he tied his camel to a fig tree and went to sleep.
Or, later when they caught and arrested him, his pockets were full of figs.

At age six I ate a dried fig and shrugged.
"That's not what I'm talking about! he said,
"I'm talking about a fig straight from the earth — gift of Allah! — on a branch so heavy it touches the ground.
I'm talking about picking the largest, fattest,
 sweetest fig
in the world and putting it in my mouth."
(Here he'd stop and close his eyes.)


Years passed, we lived in many houses,
none had figtrees.
We had lima beans, zucchini, parsley, beets.
"Plant one!" my mother said.
but my father never did.
He tended garden half-heartedly, forgot to water,
let the okra get too big.
"What a dreamer he is. Look how many things he starts and doesn't finish."

The last time he moved, I got a phone call,
My father, in Arabic, chanting a song
I'd never heard. "What's that?"
He took me out back to the new yard.
There, in the middle of Dallas, Texas,
a tree with the largest, fattest,
sweetest fig in the world.
"It's a fig tree song!" he said,
plucking his fruits like ripe tokens,
emblems, assurance
of a world that was always his own.

-Naomi Shihab Nye

1A trickster figure in Palestinian folktales

The above is excerpted from 19 VARIETIES OF GAZELLE by Naomi Shihab Nye. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.


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