A Poem for the New and Ancient Math

“It is impossible to be a mathematician without being a poet in soul.”  
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . – Sonya Kovalevsky

Naomi Shihab Nye is an American, an Arab, a Poet, a parent, a woman of Texas, a woman of ideas. Her poems speak of ordinary things―things we take
for granted until it’s almost too late.” 
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ―Bill Moyers

Naomi Shihab Nye’s father was a Palestinian refuge. She was born in St.Louis, Missouri.  “I grew up in St. Louis in a tiny house full of large music – Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson singing majestically on the stereo, my German-American mother fingering ‘The Lost Chord’ on the piano as golden light sank through trees, my Palestinian father trilling in Arabic in the shower each dawn.” During her teens, she lived in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, and the Old City in Jerusalem.

The Math of the Middle East is incredibly difficult to understand. There are too many maimed and dead to count on all sides, the problems shift and change even as we read them, and no one’s answers are always right or always wrong. Naomi Shihab Nye writes this poem from the point of view of a Palestinian schoolboy living in the Gaza strip, on an ordinary day which suddenly explodes.

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To read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Before I was a Gazan” click here:

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Before I Was a Gazan

by Naomi Shihab Nye

I was a boy
and my homework was missing,
paper with numbers on it,
stacked and lined,
I was looking for my piece of paper,
proud of this plus that, then multiplied,
not remembering if I had left it
on the table after showing to my uncle
or the shelf after combing my hair
but it was still somewhere
and I was going to find it and turn it in,
make my teacher happy,
make her say my name to the whole class,
before everything got subtracted
in a minute
even my uncle
even my teacher
even the best math student and his baby sister
who couldn’t talk yet.
And now I would do anything
for a problem I could solve.


© by Naomi Shihab Nye

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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 45 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband and a bewildered Border Collie.
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