Monday, August 4, 2008

Ahlan wa Sahlan — the gift of hospitality

I post this here for Um and Abu Ahmed, who shared their beautiful home, their tears of grief, their mint, and their tea. May they who welcomed strangers find welcome in return.

Red Brocade

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he's come from,
where he's headed.
That way, he'll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you'll be
such good friends
you don't care.

Let's go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That's the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

-Naomi Shihab Nye
from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East

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