Poetry on Video: "Shoulders"

Morningside Center's Daniel Coles shares the poem "Shoulders" by Naomi Shihab Nye, and suggests ways to use the poem in your classroom.

“Teachers sometimes shy away from poetry. They’re afraid that kids won’t be able to relate,” says Morningside Center senior program manager Daniel Coles.

“But we find that students often love to hear and share their thoughts and feelings about poems.  A poem invites us to reflect, to slow down, to engage with each other in ways we don’t usually do. We especially like to use poems to open an activity. It signals that we are coming together in a different way.”

Here, Daniel shares with you the poem "Shoulders" by the Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye.  See below for the text of the poem and suggestions about how to use it in your classroom.



Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.



How can I use this poem?

We have used Naomi Shihab Nye's lovely poem in circles with both young people and adults.

If possible, play the video in your classroom, without preface. Allow a few seconds of silence after the poem to let it settle.

Then, try a process we often use with poems: 

  • Give each participant a copy of the poem, or project the poem on the smartboard.  
  • Read the poem out loud as a group by going around the circle, asking each person to read one line. If there are more lines than participants, go around the circle a second time. 
  • Next, ask each person to pick one line of the poem that especially resonates for them. In a circle go-round, ask each person to read that line and say why it resonates.


Naomi Shihab Nye, "Shoulders" from Red Suitcase.  Copyright © 1994 by  Naomi Shihab Nye.  Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.