* — July 26, 2017
What Happens Next
Joe+Jeanette Archie, 2009

Ferguson, no one ever heard of you.
Unless they lived in Florissant, or Cool Valley,
we said “St. Louis” when we went away because
you were obscure, tucked in leafy green,
lost to humming humidity.
Sure we could count on things –
farmer Al in baggy overalls, boxing tomatoes,
patient books lined calmly at the library,
Hermit-Lady sunken into tilting house,
Catholic pal saying I could not step into his church
to see the painted statues, God would not approve,
I was not baptized, a drifter amongst
Ferguson’s ditches and trees.
We might have guessed your coming troubles,
white teacher reading Langston with a throaty catch in her voice.
But we loved your fragrances and musky soil.
All so poor a dime or quarter could change a day,
but filled with rich longing, striding up hill or down,
how to spend our secret bounty?
Invisible lines, but my Arab daddy wanted to know more.
Evenings we watered the grass,
then drove slowly around the other side,
he waved, people called him reckless,
the only Arab in town chalked curiosity up to foreign desire.
Something coming had to be better than this.
Better than the separations humans make –
at four, I am climbing steep stairs of the house next door.
If I sit quietly, the teenager who lives inside will emerge and tightly braid
my hair. She has a good brush. She brushes hard, down to the scalp.
I am more confident than in my own home.


Originally published in No Tokens Issue No. 4. View full issue & more.

Naomi Shihab Nye’s most recent books are Famous (Wings Press) illustrated by Lisa Desimini, and The Turtle Of Oman (Greenwillow), a novel for children.