For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

—Naomi Shihab Nye

Rights & Access

"Making a Fist” from Everything Comes Next by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

  • Naomi Shihab Nye

    Naomi Shihab Nye (1952- ) is the author of more than 10 poetry collections, including Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems (Greenwillow Books, 2020). In addition to her poetry collections, Nye has produced fiction for children, song recordings, poetry translations, and essays.