Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Darling” is a poem filled with ghosts. Visions of Lebanon haunt the narrator thousands of miles away in Texas; every mundane motion, every breaking of toast or sipping of tea, is shadowed by a twin image. Someone’s kettle has been crushed. Someone’s sister has a gash above her right eye. Even within the imagined or remembered scenes of Lebanon, there are ghosts: One who was there is not there, for no reason.
Nye is Palestinian American, and spent her earliest years in St. Louis; when she was 14, her family spent a year living in the West Bank before they moved to San Antonio, Texas. The sense of blended, shifting identity has been a source of inspiration and beauty for Nye. But in “Darling,” she also acknowledges the pain that can come with feeling split between places—disconnected from a part of yourself, like a phantom limb. When this poem was published in The Atlantic in 1995, Lebanon was only five years out from a civil war that forced hundreds of thousands of displaced persons—including many Palestinian refugees—to flee; going about her life in Texas, the ache of that separation and displacement still reached her.
For Nye, the “darling” in question is not Lebanon, nor Texas, nor a memory or a loved one. It is language itself; the only thing, she suggests, that can bridge some gaps.