Photo by Pieter Stockmans

“Syrian refugees go about their business in 
a refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan . . .” 

Ropes on poles, jeans & shirts flapping in wind.
He sits on a giant bag of rice, head in hands. 

Too much or too little, rips & bursts & furrows. 
Something seared in a pan. 

If you knew a mother, any mother, you would care
for mothers, yes? No.  

What it is to be lonesome for stacked papers
on a desk, under glass globe, 

brass vase with standing pencils,
new orders. 

How quickly urgencies of doing disappear. 
And where is the child from the next apartment,

whose crying kept him awake
these last terrible months?  

Where do you file this unknowing?

Naomi Shihab Nye was the laureate of the 2013 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature (see WLT, Jan. 2014) as well as the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate from 2019 to 2022. Her most recent book is The Turtle of Michigan (Greenwillow, 2022).