Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Morning Poetry

Hugging the Jukebox

by Naomi Shihab Nye

On an island the soft hue of memory,
moss green, kerosene yellow, drifting, mingling
in the Caribbean Sea,
a six-year-old named Alfred
learns all the words to all the songs
on his grandparents’ jukebox, and sings them.
To learn the words is not so hard.
Many barmaids and teenagers have done as well.
But to sing as Alfred sings—
how can a giant whale live in the small pool of his chest?
How can there be breakers this high, notes crashing
at the beach of the throat,
and a reef of coral so enormous only the fishes know its size?

The grandparents watch. They can’t sing.
They don’t know who this voice is, trapped in their grandson’s body.
The boy whose parents sent him back to the island
to chatter mango-talk and scrap with chickens—
three years ago he didn’t know the word “sad”!
Now he strings a hundred passionate sentences on a single line.
He bangs his fist so they will raise the volume.

What will they do together in their old age?
It is hard enough keeping yourself alive.
And this wild boy, loving nothing but music—
he’ll sing all night, hugging the jukebox.
When a record pauses, that live second before dropping down,
Alfred hugs tighter, arms stretched wide,
head pressed on the luminous belly. “Now!” he yells.
A half-smile when the needle breathes again.

They’ve tried putting him to bed, but he sings in bed.
Even in Spanish—and he doesn’t speak Spanish!
Sings and screams, wants to go back to the jukebox.
O mama I was born with a trumpet in my throat
spent all these years tryin’ to cough it up …

He can’t even read yet. He can’t tell time.
But he sings, and the chairs in this old dance hall jerk to attention.
The grandparents lean on the counter, shaking their heads.
The customers stop talking and stare, goosey bumps surfacing on their arms.
His voice carries out to the water where boats are tied
and sings for all of them, a wave.
For the hens, now roosting in trees,
for the mute boy next door, his second-best friend.
And for the hurricane, now brewing near Barbados—
a week forward neighbors will be hammering boards over their windows,
rounding up dogs and fishing lines,
the generators will quit with solemn clicks in every yard.

But Alfred, hugging a sleeping jukebox, the names of the tunes gone dark,
will still be singing, doubly loud now, teasing his grandmother,
“Put a coin in my mouth!” and believing what she wants to believe;
this is not the end of the island, or the tablets this life has been
scribbled on, or the song.

Utila, Honduras

Happy Sunday, my friends.

Image above and many, many incredible portraits found on
SkyShaper's photostream.


Tracy said...

On an island the soft hue of memory... Right from the start this is like a dream... so beautiful... Happy Weekend, Relyn, and thank you for sharing this poem. I'd not seen this one before! :o) ((HUGS))

Jessica said...

I have a little secret (I didn't really love poetry for a long time...years--until I read really, honestly good poetry here). There I said it! Have a wonderful Sunday!

smith kaich jones said...

Oh yeah! That has awakened me!


:) Debi

spread your wings said...

Happy Sunday to you my friend.

Ragamuffin Gal said...

This picture is soo wonderful with this poem! Blessings Friend!

Beverley Baird said...

What a beautiful poem. I love your blog - first time here!
Thank you so much for stopping by mine and leaving such a lovely comment.
I read your simple pleasures list and there are so many I can relate to!
Take care.

Roban said...

And the people who can sing like that give me "goosey" bumps, too. Lovely, lovely poem....

Patti said...

That is a very cool poem Relyn...and I love the image- it is a perfet match! Have a wonderuful week~

Char said...

excellent pairing - happy sunday!

Angie Muresan said...

That is so lovely, Relyn. I have never come across it before. Thanks for sharing.

Kim Living Life said...

Wow wow wow that is amazing I absolutely love it thanks.

Jeanne said...

Thanks for all you share
Love you

willow said...

I'm forwarding this one to my sister in law, who does a lot of social work in Honduras. She's gonna love this!

Derrick said...

Hi Relyn,

Yes, the singing voice is a powerful instrument and some people are blessed.

Marilyn said...

You do have a knack for finding wonderful, imagining poems. I will think of this poem as I go through my day.

Jenny said...

What a beautiful, restful blog. Just lovely. I need this blog for my crazy life. I signed up as a follower.

Anonymous said...

such amazing words...thank you! you always make me smile!

Suz said...

You're singing to the choir
I love Naomi Shehab Nye

Oliag said...

This is a poet I am not familiar with...and I love to discover new poets....Thanks!...The photo is perfect for illustrating this too...

Jeanie said...

I don't know this poem! Thanks! And LOVE the photo!

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