19 Varieties of Gazelle: Gazelle are used by Arab poets to signify grace, but this grace is beyond description, both in its own form and in the consideration of how this grace affects the lives of the gazelle and how a parallel quality could be found in humans.
Arabic: Arabic is the language of pain, being the language of a group of people who suffer more than most. Nye is ashamed that she cannot fully experience what there is to learn from this culture, as she does not speak Arabic.
Jerusalem: This poem talks about how ridiculous the conflict over Jerusalem is: that each and every individual is themselves and has experienced their own suffering and happiness; it says that the conflict is useless in that it doesn’t accomplish anything for either side, and that it really is all politics: that individuals just want peace.
Holy Land: An old woman named Sitti holds a place in the lives of other characters in which she misinterprets modern ideas in holy and spiritual ways, representing tradition and history, which are peaceful and enlightened in the face of modern conflict. She has great power, capable of controlling and analyzing people in ways that other cannot.
Half-and-Half: Nye is told that it is not possible for her to believe in Christianity and Islam, providing the reason that she is forced to practice her religion in private, where no one can judge her based on it. She sees that, while she is told this, there are many other aspects of the world which are made up of many different things, not being told that they can’t have multiple identities.
Stain: There are many negative things in life which can never be removed or forgotten; they are permanent. However, while this suffering is eternal, positive things, such as attachment to one’s home are also timeless in the same sense.
My Uncle’s Favorite Coffee Shop: Nye’s uncle is an immigrant to the US, where he has a favorite coffee shop. He loves this coffee shop because he fits in there, something that is all too rare for an immigrant, but he wants to return to his home country, so that he can see whether there is peace, and bask in its light, before his death.
A Definite Shore: A definite shore is salvation from the oppression that Arabs are faced with: their wish for to recognize that they are intelligent humans with great potential, but are being prevented from accomplishing their dreams. They are both lost on land, far away from the water that can nourish them and move them, and lost at sea, away from the land that can support them.
Two Countries: Skin is a cover, used to separate oneself from true differences, while at the same time trying to establish these differences to be irrelevant and unimportant. This is an attempt to create peace, but is too susceptible to misinterpretation and maintenance of the conflict.
The Tray: Tea is something that is consistent throughout all situations in Nye’s family, as in many cultures. It is served through sadness, happiness, and just about everything, being yet another consistent factor in a continually changing world.
The Many Hats of William Yale: William Yale was a Western representative in the Middle East who helped plan the division of the Ottoman Empire after its fall. The hope that these tiny hats inspire is an impossible one, replicating the seemingly impossible hope that Middle Easterners hold for the resolution of their conflicts.
What News Are You Listening To?: The thunderstorm both represents the end of a drought in the desert and a metaphorical storm in the sense of a conflict. Thus, it sparks a desire to be there both because of the coming success and because of a feeling of shame for not sharing the suffering.
Staying Close: A rug seller from Baghdad comes to deliver a rug, representing the happiness that the old land brings.
Ducks: An Iraqi immigrant is discouraged by the lack of value of knowledge that Americans hold, then worried because of the war that America wages against her homeland. She tries to find comfort in her ducks, which are entirely unaffected by the war and the worries that she faces, not being able to contact her family.
The Address Book of a Lonely Man: The speaker looks through an address book that hasn’t been added to in 20 years, finding the address of a cousin in Alaska who doesn’t know of conflict that some of his family faces.