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Mint Snowball by Naomi Shihab Nye


Some of you may have encountered a wee chapbook of paragraphs from State Street Press called MINT that was first printed in 1991. If you were one of the people who liked that collection, or especially one of the generous teachers who used it in your classes, I thank you. This gathering contains some (not all) of those same pieces as well as more recent ones.

That collection contained the following Author's Note: "I think of these pieces as being simple paragraphs rather than prose poems, though a few might sneak into the prose poem category, were they traveling on their own. The paragraph, standing by itself, has a lovely pocket-sized quality. It garnishes the page, as mint garnishes a plate. Many people say (foolishly, of course), they don't like poetry, but I've never heard anyone say that they don't like paragraphs. It would be like disliking five-minute increments on the clock." Well, I stand by that. I still think of these little things we write as being paragraphs, in all their honorable, minor dignity, and I still believe the paragraph form has something larger to give us, if we let it. And, I am still having trouble, in my drought-stricken Texas earth, growing the lavish, meandering mint bed I would like to grow. -- naomi shihab nye (from the back cover)



We all grew mint in patches in our yards, my father and mother, uncles, aunts. Passing rooted sprigs to neighbors, crowning summer jugs of lemonade as Greeks and Romans once crowned themselves with mint leaves. In some yards the mint spiralled out of flower beds or flourished where the air conditioner dripped. My parents snipped it up for salads. I liked to arrange bouquets of mint in juice glasses next to the sink. It made the room feel fresh. Once my two uncles were fighting near the mint bed, socking each other with their fists, and one ripped the other's shirt open so his buttons popped off into the grass. My mother shouted, "Oh! - Oh! - Oh!" Later we were kneeling, looking for buttons, while they sat at the kitchen table laughing, drinking tea with mint.


His Life

I don't know what he thinks about. At night the vault of his face closes up. He could be underground. He could be buried treasure. He could be a donkey trapped in the Bisbee Mine, lowered in so long ago with pulleys and belts, kicking, till its soft fur faded and eyes went blind. They made donkeys pull the little carts of ore from seam to seam. At night, when the last men stepped into the creaking lift, the donkeys cried. Some lived as long as 17 years down there. The miners still feel bad about it. They would have hauled them out to breathe real air in the evenings, but the chute was so deep and they'd never be able to force them in again.


El Paso Sky

When it's no good on earth I look up. When the cups on my table all have chips around the edges and I can't get that feeling of what to do next, I press my eyes into the skinny pink stripe melting under the blue rumple that rolls and rolls and the dark corner growing over the mountains. I say to myself, "It's happening without you." If I had the biggest arms in the world, I couldn't hug that. When I think of the people who are dead now, who weren't dead just a little while ago, and how easy it would have been to pick up the phone and talk to them by dialing a number - I look at the sky. It's all one piece now.

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