“Negotiations with a Volcano” by Naomi Shihab (PAD Prompt #26) Nye

Today I went looking for a poem to go with world events. Browsing email this morning, I was struck by the power and beauty of the images of Tungurahua volcano that erupted in Ecuador yesterday. ( Incredible images courtesy of EarthSky.org). According to the Associted Press, Tungurahua is from the Quichua word tunguri (throat) and rahua (fire): “Throat of Fire.”


I know of many references to volcanoes in poetry; Emily Dickinson alone wrote many poems about the terrifying possibilities. I love Naomi Shihab Nye’s work, but was unfamiliar with this poem. I especially like it for its domestic details and its prayer-like quality. And that wonderful title, the idea that one might negotiate with the natural world, with whatever gods or goddesses might be listening — such a great tradition of poetry she is following.

Negotiations with a Volcano
by Naomi Shihab Nye

We will call you “Agua” like the rivers and cool jugs.
We will persuade the clouds to nestle around your neck
so you may sleep late.
We would be happy if you slept forever.
We will tend the slopes we plant, singing the songs
our grandfathers taught us before we inherited their fear.
We will try not to argue among ourselves.
When the widow demands extra flour, we will provide it,
remembering the smell of incense on the day of our Lord.

Please think of us as we are, tiny, with skins that burn easily.
Please notice how we have watered the shrubs around our houses
and transplanted the peppers into neat tin cans.
Forgive any anger we feel toward the earth,
when the rains do not come, or they come too much,
and swallow our corn.
It is not easy to be this small and live in your shadow.

Often while we are eating our evening meal
you cross our rooms like a thief,
touching first the radio and then the loom.
Later our dreams begin catching fire around the edges,
they burn like paper, we wake with our hands full of ash.

How can we live like this?
We need to wake and find our shelves intact,
our children slumbering in their quilts.
We need dreams the shape of lakes,
with mornings in them thick as fish.
Shade us while we cast and hook—
but nothing else, nothing else.

The volcano referenced in this poem is Agua, in Guatemala. This great site (Smithsonian Institute) has great information.

For anyone who is used to writing a poem-a-day with me, and comes on Saturdays to look for a prompt, try writing a poem of prayer, bargaining, or negotiation with a force of nature: oh dear mountain; please deep ocean; no, no, not me snow and rain! What exactly would you be asking for? What are you hoping to be spared from?

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