Shortly after my daughter left for six months to study in England, I was bumbling around on the internet reading poems about traveling. I stumbled upon reference to a poem entitled “The Traveling Onion” by Naomi Shahib Nye. I’m already a fan of her work and that whimsical title hooked me, so I checked it out.
Naomi Shahib Nye prefaces her poem with a quote from the Betty Crocker cookbook that details the travels of the onion from India to Egypt (where it was apparently revered and a symbol of eternity–who knew?) to Greece and into all of Europe. As I poked around a bit more, I discovered that there is some dispute about the actual origin of the onion that we cultivate, but most agree it probably has Asian roots.
Once again, I must lament my lack of awareness and curiosity. It’s so easy to be focused on the end goal (dinner!) and forget to be open to the possible wonders of the process. Nye, like every gifted poet, reminds me to pay attention and to consider different aspects of everything around me. I had never considered the onion much before, except to dread the stinging pain in my eyes whenever I cut into one. Nye’s poem has made me reconsider even this aspect of the onion and opened my eyes to others. Her words pay homage to this “small and forgotten” vegetable that disappears “for the sake of others.”
“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,…”
(click on this link to view the poem in its entirety)
I’m not sure what I love most about this poem. Perhaps it’s the idea that there are many “small forgotten miracles” in our world if we just take the time to look. Perhaps it’s the lovely image of “pearly layers in smooth agreement” or the mouth-popping fun of the phrase “crackling paper peeling”. Certainly in part, it’s the gift Naomi Shahib Nye has for focusing on the banal and then shedding light on it so that it transcends its seemingly ordinary existence. I, for one, will never cut into an onion again without thinking of these lines.
Please be sure to visit Reading to the Core for this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup!