IMAGE: Meridith McNeal


Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye is the recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement from the National Book Critics Circle. She has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and Guggenheim Foundation. From 2010 to 2015 she served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2018 she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement from the Texas Institute of Letters. Nye is the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate. 

Once my father and I were flying home from the Middle East and we stopped in Paris for 24 hours. 

Our taxi driver told us what happiness was. “It’s when you don’t want anything. You don’t hate it, 

You just don’t want it. You like it, in fact. You just don’t want it.” I told him he sounded like a Buddhist, 

but he didn’t want that either. He said nobody in Paris was happy. He let us off on a street where vendors 

sold cream puffs and hosiery and snazzy yellow-toed shoes and pears and fresh baguettes and wine. 

The whole day and night I was in Paris, I bought nothing. Not one thing. Not even a postcard.  

At the restaurant, I asked the waitress to choose for me, partly because I couldn’t read French, but also  

because I wasn’t sure what I wanted.  We could have changed our tickets and stayed 10 days.  

My father wanted to. I could have bought Parisian socks, a tin of lemon drops.  My father kept shaking  

his head, asking, “What’s the rush?” He told me I’d be sorry later. It wasn’t the first time he’d predicted this.

But I felt happy in Paris, so briefly, breezing up and down those streets I’d never know with my empty hands.

“Paris” copyright © 1991 by Naomi Shihab Nye; first appeared in MINT, published by State Street Press in 1991. “Paris” was later published in MINT SNOWBALL by Anhinga Press in 2001. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.