Where Children Live
Homes where children live exude a pleasant rumpledness,
like a bed made by a child, or a yard littered with balloons.
To be a child again one would need to shed details
till the heart found itself dressed in the coat with a hood.
Now the heart has taken on gloves and mufflers,
the heart never goes outside to find something to do.
And the house takes on a new face, dignified.
No lost shoes blooming under bushes.
No chipped trucks in the drive.
Grown-ups like swings, leafy plants, slow-motion back and forth.
While the yard of a child is strewn with the corpses
of bottle-rockets and whistles,
anything whizzing and spectacular, brilliantly short-lived.
Trees in children’s yards speak in clearer tongues.
Ants have more hope. Squirrels dance as well as hide.
The fence has a reason to be there, so children can go in and out.
Even when the children are at school, the yards glow
with the leftovers of their affection,
the roots of the tiniest grasses curl toward one another
like secret smiles.
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.
Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis and lives in San Antonio, Texas. Of American and Palestinian heritage, she is author or editor of 30 books, including the teen novels Habibi and Going Going and eight anthologies of poetry. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Wittner Bynner Fellow, and was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2010. “Where Children Live” is from Words Under the Words (Far Corner Books), and “The Rider” is from Fuel (Boa Editions). Both poems are reprinted by permission. Author photograph by Michael Nye.