National Poetry Month Monday: Naomi Shihab Nye

In light of April being National Poetry Month, every Monday in April Unbound will publish a poem. The poems, by nationally recognized poets, will be selected because they speak in one way or another to what we are all facing in light of pandemic.

Poetry is an important part of my ministry. In my work, the poems I use are not explicitly religious or by religious writers, yet they speak clearly in faith settings. I have had the privilege over the last twenty plus years to read poems at Blues Vespers. I created Blues Vespers in 1999. It is a blues concert with poems and a short message. Currently Blues Vespers is held in Tacoma, Washington on the University of Puget Sound Campus in Tacoma and at the Interfaith Community Sanctuary in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle. It is internationally known and the recipient of numerous rewards. When I was pastor at Immanuel in Tacoma, I regularly incorporated poetry into liturgy and as often as part of sermons. In the late 1990’s, I wrote a regular poetry column for the publication of the Weatherspoon Society.

Although I write poems on occasion, my focus is sharing the poems and poets that interest or excite me and that I believe speak to the context, no matter what the religious or spiritual orientation of the poet may be. I look forward to sharing poems the next four weeks in Unbound. I agree with what I learned in my first poetry class as an undergraduate that most good poems (not all) should be able to speak for themselves and do not need elaborate introductions before being read. I will keep my introductions brief.

The first selection is by Naomi Shihab Nye, one of my favorite poets. Her Palestinian American identity frequently influences her work. That identity is not seen explicitly in this poem, but it is front and center in her new book, The Tiny Journalist (2019 BOA Editions Limited). The poem paints pictures and offers an invitation.

Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.
No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.
This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.
We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.
The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

SHOULDERS by Naomi Shihab Nye from Red Suitcase ( BOA Editions). Copyright 1994 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions.

Rev. Dave Brown is the former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma where he continues to live. He is creator/host of Blues Vespers, one of the PNW Interfaith Amigos and a writer. He can be reached at

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