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Poem: Separation Wall

From our poet of the month, Naomi Shihab Nye

Silhouette of a woman doing fabric acrobats over moonscape background

Getty/ Rudimencial

“They say they are scared of us. / The nuclear bomb is scared of the cucumber.”

Separation Wall 

When the milk is sour,
it separates. 

The next time you stop speaking,
ask yourself why you were born. 

They say they are scared of us.
The nuclear bomb is scared of the cucumber. 

When my mother asks me to slice cucumbers,
I feel like a normal person with fantastic dilemmas: 

Do I make rounds or sticks? Shall I trim the seeds?
I ask my grandmother if there was ever a time 

she felt like a normal person every day,
not in danger, and she thinks for as long 

as it takes a sun to set and says, Yes.
I always feel like a normal person. 

They just don’t see me as one.
We would like the babies not to find out about 

the failures waiting for them. I would like
them to believe on the other side of the wall 

is a circus that just hasn’t opened yet. Our friends,
learning how to juggle, to walk on tall poles.

I am haunted by all walls that separate. When you live in the shadow of an oversized wall complicating your whole life, there is much to consider.

I love the cucumber part of this poem, myself - daily tasks keeping us sane, helping us feel

“normal” in the face of bigotry, cruelty, etc. Israel has now announced, with the blessing of the United States, that the illegally built settlements (on stolen land) will no longer be deemed illegitimate. I need some cucumbers.

Actually at one time there was a shared Palestinian/Israeli circus initiative. You'd have to Google to see if it's still in action. Great idea though—shared anything.

“Shadow” from The Tiny Journalist. © 2019 by Naomi Shihab Nye. BOA Editions, Ltd.,

Read more poems from Naomi Shihab Nye:

And That Mysterious Word Holy

About the Author

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye is the author and/or editor of more than thirty volumes of poetry. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow and a Witter Bynner Fellow. Her numerous awards include a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award from BOA, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Patterson Poetry Prize, and four Pushcart Prizes. In May 2019 she was named the 2019–2021 Young People's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. For more information about Naomi Shihab Nye, visit

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