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The Attic and Its Nails by Naomi Shihab Nye

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Feel like a headless chicken running around these days. There’s so much to finish, but I can’t seem to see what’s ahead of me, and where I’m going, if I’m going somewhere. When you find out that someone you love is dying, that the cancer is back and there’s no way out of it, not this time—what do you do. What do you do.

How do you even reconcile with the fact that you are already grieving before it is over. It just comes, the tide that threatens to overwhelm you. While I’m eating lunch, or doing my laundry, or watering my plants. The time you have left is still not enough time. 

There will be other rooms in my life but this is the one I am in right now. Here on my knees, hands patting the ground underneath the bed, pulling out an abandoned sock, thinking, I’ve forgotten about this. And then you start to wonder what else will you forget about, what else will start to fade from your life, who else will be left to witness who you are and whom you will become. 

I’m a headless chicken trying to forget someone in my life is about to leave this world. I dust this corner and that corner. I put things in boxes. I open my fridge and stare at nothing. I go to the sink to wash my hands and watch the water gush out the faucet for awhile. I take things out of boxes. I dust this corner and that corner. How do I do this again. How do I survive this again.

I dig around my shelves for books and poems, searching for prayers. Perhaps even answers.

The Attic and Its Nails
Naomi Shihab Nye

It’s hard up there. You dig in a box for whatever the moment requires: sweater, wreath, the other half of the walky-talky, and find twelve things you forgot about which delay the original search, since now that you found them you have to think about them. Do I want to keep this, bring it downstairs? Of course your life feels very different from the life you had when you packed it up there. Maybe your life has another kind of room in it now, maybe it feels more crowded. Maybe you think looking at this old ceramic cup with the pocked white glaze that you made in college would uplift you in the mornings. Your search takes on an urgent ratlike quality as you rip paper out of boxes, shredding and piling it. Probably by now you’ve stood up too fast and speared your head on one of the nails that holds the roof shingles down. They’re lined up all along the rafters, poking through, aimed. Now you have to think about tetanus, rusty nails, the hearty human skull. A little dizzy for awhile, you’re too occupied to remember what sent you up in the dark.

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This poem appeared in Red Suitcase by Naomi Shihab Nye, published by Boa Editions, Ltd., 1994. Shared here with profound gratitude.

Read more works by Naomi Shihab NyeFind books by this poet • Or view my library 

Explore poems in pursuit of: memorygrowing oldidentity • Or browse the index


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