Kindness (Naomi Shihab Nye)

Kindness (Naomi Shihab Nye)

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

 

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho 

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans 

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

 

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, 

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.  

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth. 

 

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and 

     purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

it is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you every where

like a shadow or a friend.

by Naomi Shihab Nye
illustration by Corrie Haffly

There is so much unkindness. So much selfishness in the world. And sometimes, in stark contrast, we see hands of kindness. Our church has been praying for and trying to think of ways to show kindness to Syrian refugees half way across the world, and yet still our brothers and sisters (these images of Syrian refugee children sleeping , for example). When Corrie suggested drawing Syrian refugees for this poem, I knew immediately it was perfect.

I had a hippopotamus (Patrick Barrington)

hippo

I had a Hippopotamus

I had a Hippopotamus, I kept him in a shed
And fed him upon vitamins and vegetable bread
I made him my companion on many cheery walks
And had his portrait done by a celebrity in chalk

His charming eccentricities were known on every side
The creatures’ popularity was wonderfully wide
He frolicked with the Rector in a dozen friendly tussles
Who could not but remark on his hippopotamuscles

If he should be affected by depression or the dumps
By hippopotameasles or the hippopotamumps
I never knew a particle of peace ’till it was plain
He was hippopotamasticating properly again

I had a Hippopotamus, I loved him as a friend
But beautiful relationships are bound to have an end
Time takes alas! our joys from us and robs us of our blisses
My hippopotamus turned out to be a hippopotamisses

My house keeper regarded him with jaundice in her eye
She did not want a colony of hippopotami
She borrowed a machine gun from from her soldier nephew, Percy
And showed my hippopotamus no hippopotamercy

My house now lacks that glamour that the charming creature gave
The garage where I kept him is now silent as the grave
No longer he displays among the motor tyres and spanners
His hippopomastery of hippopotamanners

No longer now he gambols in the orchards in the spring
No longer do I lead him through the village on a string
No longer in the morning does the neighbourhood rejoice
To his hippopotamusically-modulated voice.

I had a hippopotamus but nothing upon earth
Is constant in its happines or lasting in its mirth
No joy that life can give me can be strong enough to smother
My sorrow for what might-have-been a hippopotamother.

By Patrick Barrington
Illustration by Corrie Haffly.
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I learned this poem for a talent show when I was 9, and have loved it ever since. I chose it as an excuse to revisit all its delightful humor with my kids, and also because I couldn’t wait to see Corrie’s hippo illustration 🙂