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The Traveling Onion

It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an object of worship—why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.

–Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.

And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,

–Naomi Shihab Nye

My love of cooking, and of onions in the particular, is showing since this is the second poem about allium cepa I’ve featured on this blog. (For another great onion-centric poem, see this earlier post, Onion Love.)

Sharing another onion moment is so apt right now during the transition from summer to fall that is upon us. The warm soups. the slow cooked stews—those hearty meals that are put aside during the hotter months when fresh is all we want on our table. Time to return to that which goes limp, lets itself be divided, and then, with a lingering legacy of its savory essence, gracefully disappears.
Study for Skin I, by Jasper Johns

Two Countries

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.

–Naomi Shihab Nye

This is for my favorite and only squeeze, D.

Naomi Shihab Nye is a Palestinian American and author of Different Ways to Pray.