Wednesday, June 17, 2009

White silk - Naomi Shihab Nye

"Forget everything, stop doing anything, and try to rest completely. Try to pass ten thousand years in one thought! Try to be the cold ashes and the worn-out tree! Try to be a length of white silk."
~Zen Master Shih Shuang

I dreamed of white silk the night
you pointed a finger at me saying
there were caves in my history
I refused to explore. You had a clue, you said,
and would have led me down the damp passageways
swinging your lamp.
In my life, historically, that was the moment
you disappeared.

I dreamed of white silk on the last day of the year.
Crouched on my roof, I watched the neighborhood ignite,
quick bright fountains lighting up the trees.
I heard the distant yell of children,
the joy of an ending and a beginning with a name.
And I knew there were things I cared about
and things I did not care about
just as I knew the blunt sidewalks leading east and west.
The lifelong vocation of standing wherever you are
and knowing which way to walk next --
I dreamed the roof was white silk, folded carefully on a large bolt,
the center to which I would return and return.

I dreamed white silk on the day I realized
detail, that wealth we live by, is also
another method of execution.
I was carrying keys on a large silver ring --
trying to find the right key for a lock that would not budge,
with a time limit, someone needed in.

I felt myself juggling under a weight that said,
This too is the world.
For some, the only world.
I knew then why the faces of women behind counters are often
expressionless, why their eyes are coins
with only one side.

On the day I realized I would be riding
this slow pony forever

On the day my mother's voice broke
like a teacup in my hands
and I saw us all standing on tiny islands
off the coast of Alaska
drifting up into cooler regions
where the only relationship is ice and sky

On the day we talked about life after death
and I said, If there is none
that doesn't change anything

In a small town, in a general store,
I saw a roll of white silk sleeping high on a shelf.
Storekeeper counting beans,
told me if I wanted anything, better get it,
he was closing out in auction the coming week.
I unrolled the silk. Smooth brown lines at every crease.
In the corner, his wife darned slips and winked at me.
"Don't believe it, honey.
You want anything -- you take your time."

~Naomi Shihab Nye

(Photo from

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