Shoulders, 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.

This will be my last post until September. I’m taking parental leave, and I know that despite my best intentions, the likelihood of getting back here before the unofficial “start of the year” (for me, the year has and will always begin at Labor Day) is a pipe dream. Having one kiddo was busy – having a newborn and a toddler, I expect, will be chaos.

That being said, I never get tired of sharing Nye’s work with a larger audience. She has been one of my favorite poets (although she’s a wonderful author of fiction, as well) for over a decade now, and I’m constantly stumbling over her words, tucked away in some notebook or word doc I’ve saved, at the perfect moment. For me, this is that time. I’m on the precipice of a life change I can hardly imagine but feel deeply blessed to have, and at the same time, I’m concerned that our second child will be born into a world so dramatically different than our first.

Our first was a child born of Summer (I still remember being moved by that idea of “eternal” plenty when I read A Game of Thrones back in 2001). Although the world was far from “fixed,” it was still a hopeful period for this country. The rights of many were being recognized in ways they hadn’t before, and the political spirit was leaning toward uplifting the most vulnerable rather than trampling them. My own life, and the lives of many of my nearest and dearest were in celebratory periods, and I felt a great confidence – not only in myself, but in friends and stranger alike. I floated through pregnancy enjoying a sense of alignment with the world that I don’t think I felt before or since.

This time around, I’m much more anxious. The things I hear and see, the lengths people have to go to to be recognized with simple dignity, the pain I’m witness to in the people closest to me – it has been a far cry from the sunny peace of two years ago. I feel a sense of powerlessness and exhaustion to make the kind of statements I want to make for myself, my family, my neighbors, and those around the world who are suffering horrendously. And yet, this little wiggle, this busy kid I carry with me everywhere, he offers me great comfort. He is a reminder, when I feel overwhelmed, of my ability to empathize with other mothers no matter our differences, to have patience with the greater questions, to be as kind to those I meet as I hope they will be one day to him.

It’s a lot to get from a little person who hasn’t made an official appearance yet, but I’m profoundly grateful. The serenity of the world may not surround me right now, but I can still find it, still breathe deeper remembering my role – not just as a parent, but as a human being – is not to fix everything or celebrate always, but to keep my eyes open for opportunities to care for those who cross my path.


Be well, my book loving friends. I look forward to rejoining you in a few months and hope in the meantime, you find great books to transport and transform you.

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

“I can believe things that are true and things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.

I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen – I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkled lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women.

american_godsI believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state.

I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste.

I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like martians in War of the Worlds.

I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman.

I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself.

I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.

I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too.

I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system.

I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.” Sam stopped, out of breath.

Shadow almost took his hands off the wheel to applaud. Instead he said, “Okay. So if I tell you what I’ve learned you won’t think that I’m a nut.”

“Maybe,” she said. “Try me.”

Am I the only one geeking out over the television adaptation of American Gods coming out in two weeks? I assume not, although I haven’t run into a lot of people who have been talking about it, so it sometimes feels as though I am. I had actually put it out of my mind for a long time (not a tough thing to do since I don’t have much time to watch tv or read these days), but all of a sudden, April was upon us and I remembered that this was happening and I had to reread the book.

Maybe that was a mistake. It’s been a favorite for a long time. It’s been well over a decade now since I first read it – all the way back to the summer after my freshman year of college, when a friend lent it to me and I stayed awake with Shadow and Wednesday during terrible hot August nights trying to get comfortable on the air mattress balanced on top of milk crates that I called a bed.

I had no idea what it was about when she gave it to me, and the only other book I’d read by Gaiman was Good Omens, which is a much different beast (it’s clear to me now, when I compare his solo work and his collaborations, what pieces come from him and which don’t, although back then, I had no idea). American Gods was complicated and dark and funny, and I loved it right away, even though I didn’t get it entirely. I never returned the book, and it’s travelled with me through home after home, earning a reread every two to three years when I happen upon its shelf.

Anyway, I picked it up again last week, and now I don’t know if I can watch the show. I’m kicking myself because I’ve been wanting to see this adaptation for such a long time. The book is so deeply imprinted on my psyche that I’m not sure what this new version – which looks good, but is not my own brain – will do to me. I think all book lovers know this struggle, regardless of the adaptation. It could be a movie, an audiobook recording, a graphic novel retelling – allowing another artist to take hold of precious source material is fraught. We may want it in the way we want more when we turn the last page of a beloved book, and yet a part of our hearts must acknowledge the great risk of getting what we think we deserve. It’s dangerous.

My usual defense is to distance the book from the adaptation as much as possible. Avoid re-engaging with the original text and allow the new art to be its own beast. I’m usually good about it. This time, I was foolish. This time, I’m plagued with doubt and I need the advice of my fellow bibliophiles: should I dive in, or wait a few months until the original is a little less fresh in my mind? I don’t want to destroy the place in my heart where this book has lived for so long, but also, patience is not my strong suit and I’ve been waiting years for this…