Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

Naomi Shihab Nye

I have loved this poem ever since discovering it many years ago. The visual imagery is so precise and simple and at the same time profound.

A man is carrying a child, the world’s most sensitive cargo. Right there do you not stop and envision such a scene, one you have doubtless seen many times in many venues? FRAGILE, / HANDLE WITH CARE. I have certainly felt that, though without articulating the thought. And further, what if the sleeping child were your own self, if you were to treat yourself with such gentle care?

Can you hear the hum of a boy’s dream / deep inside him? What melodic or chaotic sound would that make? What would it be like to hear such a dream? If you have ever held a sleeping child, I am sure you have heard it.

Then we come to the essence: her declaration that in order to live in this world, we must be willing to treat each other with such care and respect, such deep love. Otherwise, the roads we must cross will only ever be endlessly wide; we will always come too near to a rain-blinded driver.

Are you willing to do what this father is doing, to let the road be narrow and safe, the rain to stop? Let us imagine how different the world would be if we were each handled with care.

10 thoughts on “Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

  1. Jan,
    This is the first time I’ve read this poem. It is beautiful. It is such a tender and profound message
    I love what you write about treating yourself with such gentle care.
    And what a powerful declaration: “we’re not going to be able to live in this world if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing, with one another…”
    Seems so simple….
    Thank you Jan.


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