Poetry Friday: Reflecting on Two Countries

So yesterday I did a PD session after school for some new ELL teachers. I began by telling a story completely in Thai. Upon seeing their blank looks, I pulled out some visuals to help. The story was about Ariel the Little Mermaid, and I used a Little Mermaid doll, and Eric doll, and a toy ship (thank you to my kids for letting me steal their stuff) as well as gestures and actions to help get my point across. When I started speaking in English again, I told them I’d been an MK in Thailand. (What I didn’t tell them was that my Thai has gotten really rusty!)

Afterwards one of the teachers came up to me and told me she’d been an MK in India and she had visited Thailand a couple of times! I was thrilled to find a fellow MK! We discovered that both of us went overseas around 5th/6th grade and both of us went to international schools. And both of us had been one of the few white students at our schools. I was like, “We need to go out for coffee sometime!”

At any rate, I’ve been thinking a lot about Thailand now, and so for Poetry Friday I picked the poem “Two Countries” from Naomi Shibab Nye. What I love about this poem is that it may not about two physical countries at all, but two people. Read and enjoy . . .

Two Countries
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers–silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

Find the rest of the Poetry Friday poems here.

9 comments

  1. Oh I fell in love with the poem. I live in Singapore, very near Thailand. You should come visit this place too.
    “Love means you breathe in two countries.
    And skin remembers–silk, spiny grass,
    deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.”

    Oh to travel to that place – that ‘skin’s secret own.’ *sigh*

    • kksorrell says:

      I’ve been to Singapore! I loved it! I was there in December of 1999. I keep trying to talk my husband into moving there!

  2. Jean says:

    I love this post. You are such a great teacher! There’s no better way to raise sensitivity to ELL students than to put ELL teachers in their students’ place. I wish I could have seen you teach this session. I always tell people that you were my 50/50 child – 50% American and 50% Thai. You loved both cultures. Your MK experience continues to shape your teaching career and makes you sensitive to culture, language and other challenges that ELL students experience. Great job!

    Love,
    Mom

    • kksorrell says:

      Thanks!!! My Thai was SOOO rusty. But it was really fun to use it again and model how to help make English comprehensible to new students. And I made a new MK friend! :)

  3. Ruth says:

    WOW, what a great poem! Naomi Shihab Nye is one of my very favorites. I did a whole week of her poems – one every day – with my eighth graders recently.

    I’m a fellow MK! Nice to meet you! I grew up in Kenya and now live in Haiti.

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