Losing as Its Own Flower
–Naomi Shihab NyeWhat if we had just said, OK we lose.
How would they have treated us then? I ask my people, they gasp,
and all have different answers.
No, no, we can never give up.
Stay strong, keep speaking truth.
Truth unfolds in the gardens,
massive cabbages, succulent tomatoes,
orange petals billowing,
even when the drought is long.
Hang on tightly to what we have,
though just a scrap. The ancestors would be ashamed
if we gave up. The invaders said our land
was barren and sad.
They said we were anti-Semitic.
But we were Semites too.
What could we do?Giving up is different from losing.
In a way, we did lose. Where is everybody?
Scattered around the world like pollen.
Disappeared into the sunset.
Mingling with other cultures
in the great bubbling stew of the world.
See, we are good at that, why couldn’t we
have done better with our invaders?
They came pretending we were
an alien species. Said they had deep ties here,
some of them did, but what about ours?
Why couldn’t we all have ties?
They said God said.
We replied, See the stone stoop of my house
with my rubbed footprints in it
after all these years?
See my shining key?
They said we made everything up.
We were crazy.
Is losing worse than being called crazy?
So we did lose. We lost our rhythm of regular living.
You want the page to be clean.
The day wide open, nobody suffering.
We lost our bearings, their voices
blew hard on us, trying to erase,
turning us inside out in their minds,
changing what we became.
Tried to make the world see us that way too.
We were the undeserving.
See what people do?
We could live up to their lies if
they made us crazy enough.
So we did lose.
Professors, educated students, best maker of maklouba,
math students of Gaza, embroiderers of the West Bank,
lemon vendors, grapefruit-growers,
artist who stayed in her room painting egg cartons
for so many days, where are you?
(She went to Italy.)
I too dream of Italy, France, Greece.
A village climbing a hill
where I’m not always looking back
over my shoulder,
eyes aren’t tipping to the sides
to catch approaching tanks and jeeps,
but this is my job.
Before speech, a baby makes a cat-cry.
Maybe I knew even then.
To document. To pay attention.
We wore striped T-shirts, they wore camouflage.
To be with my family on our ground.
If you live like a real human being –
that is the issue. Not winning and hunting others.
Not sending your sewage their direction.
Did you know? Did you know they do this?
Not just refusing to lose.