Making a Fist
by Naomi Shihab Nye
For the first time, on the road north to 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
“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 woe.
I who did not die, I who am still living,
still lying in the back seat
behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
This poem is written on the back cover of a journal I kept back in 2000. (Dated Dec 25th, 1999-July 1st 2000)
I was a senior in high school then. At one point I had it memorized. At least the part about making a fist. I’ve reflected often on my journey in life and have vivid memories of me checking that I could still make a fist , because I thought for sure what was going on in my life at that time was going kill me.
The poem also spoke to me by making real that feeling of slipping out of control- that sickening twist of landscapes on the window that causes vertigo, then the need to vomit, the upheaval of life from within that is in turmoil. It was easy for me to compare my disgruntled teenage life and attitude to motion sickness. I took comfort in knowing that like so many times before, after the upheaval, came peace, relief and a new start to keep crossing those borders.