Written by Arab-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, the poem below is launched in a childish tone, but closes in a distinctly mature voice. For me, this combination of child/adult voices is what makes the poem interesting, what makes it work. Otherwise, the piece stands the risk of being another doe-eyed “barrio” poem.
But it is not. It is a rather masterful poem representative of Nye’s highly respected and abundant body of work.
Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change
Roselva says the only thing that doesn’t change
is train tracks. She’s sure of it.
The train changes, or the weeds that grow up spidery
by the side, but not the tracks.
I’ve watched one for three years, she says,
and it doesn’t curve, doesn’t break, doesn’t grow.
Peter isn’t sure. He saw an abandoned track
near Sabinas, Mexico, and says a track without a train
is a changed track. The metal wasn’t shiny anymore.
The wood was split and some of the ties were gone.
Every Tuesday on Morales Street
butchers crack the necks of a hundred hens.
The widow in the tilted house
spices her soup with cinnamon.
Ask her what doesn’t change.
The rose curls up as if there is fire in the petals.
The cat who knew me is buried under the bush.
The train whistle still wails its ancient sound
but when it goes away, shrinking back
from the walls of the brain,
it takes something different with it every time.