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poetry Before I Was a Gazan

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye expresses a child’s sense of helplessness, trapped by politics and war.

Before I Was a Gazan

By Naomi Shihab Nye

I was a boy

and my homework was missing, paper with numbers on it, stacked and lined,

I was looking for my piece of paper, proud of this plus that, then multiplied, not remembering if I had left it

on the table after showing to my uncle or the shelf after combing my hair

but it was still somewhere

and I was going to find it and turn it in, make my teacher happy,

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make her say my name to the whole class, before everything got subtracted

in a minute even my uncle even my teacher

even the best math student and his baby sister who couldn’t talk yet.

And now I would do anything for a problem I could solve.

Naomi Shihab Nye's father was a Palestinian refugee expelled from his home in Jerusalem in 1948 by Israeli occupying forces.  Later in life Aziz Shihab would volunteer as press attache for Doctors Without Borders in Gaza. Naomi urges everyone to read the Gazan poet, Mosab Abu Toha, whose book Things You Might Find Hidden in My Ear was published by City Lights Press, San Francisco, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2022.