For Mohammed on the Mountain

The title instantly makes me think of the phrase “If the mountain will not go to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.” Though I don't know if Nye had this in mind as she wrote, that sense of persistence carries throughout the poem in the narrator's desire to know her uncle. -Sarah Branz, age 21

1.
 
Uncle Mohammed, you mystery, you distant secretive face,
lately you travel across the ocean and tap me on my shoulder
and say “See?” And I think I know what you are talking about,
though we have never talked, though you have never traveled anywhere
in twenty-five years, or anywhere anyone knows about.
Since my childhood, you were the one I cared for,
you of all the uncles, the elder brother of the family.
 

I find it interesting that she cares most for an uncle she never sees. I can understand the allure of someone who is absent, someone who you just want to talk to even if you end up not liking them. -Rachel McGuinness, age 20

 
I’d pump my father, “But why did he go to the mountain?
 

I love the verb “pump” because it implies that her questions are incessant. It paints a picture of her as an eager child. -Patricia Schlutt, age 18

 
What happened to him?” and my father, in his usual quiet way,
would shrug and say, “Who knows?”
All I knew was you packed up, you moved to the mountain,
you would not come down.
This fascinated me: How does he get food? Who does he talk to?
 

These questions are so simple but the fact that they don't have answers makes them seem complex. -Patricia Schlutt, age 18

 
What does he do all day?
In grade school my friends had uncles who rode motorcycles,
who cooked steaks outdoors or paid for movies
I preferred you, in all your silence.
In my mind you were like a god, living close to clouds,
fearless and strong, with no one to sing you to sleep.
 

I feel as if this stanza is written in a childlike voice, and grows as the poem grows. I like this allusion to having someone to sing you to sleep, the loneliness of living on the mountain is felt by the narrator. -Rachel McGuinness, age 20

 
And I wanted to know you, to touch hands, to have you look at me
and recognize your blood, a small offspring
who did not find you in the least bit
nuts.
 

I like how she uses the word “nuts.” It is a bit improper, but it shows her childish side. -Brooke Helder, age 16

 
2.
I wonder how much news you know. That Naomi, your sister
for whom I was partially named, Is dead.
That one brother shot himself “by mistake”—
that your brothers Izzat and Mufli have twenty-two children
already marrying each other.
That my father edits one of the largest newspapers in America
but keeps an Arabic inscription above his door, Ahlan Wa Sahlan,
a door you will never enter.
 

The isolation and pain in this sentence is relatable to anyone who has ever not known a relative except through stories. That isolation is powerful and deep. -Patricia Schlutt, age 18

 
We came to your country, Uncle, we lived there a year
among sheep and stones, camels and fragrant oils,
and you would not come down to see us.
I think that hurt my father, though he never said so.
It hurt me, scanning the mountains for sight of your hut,
quizzing the relative and learning nothing.
Are you angry with us? Do you think my father forgot you
when he packed his satchel and boarded the ship?
Believe me, Uncle, my father is closer to you
than the brothers who never left. When he tends plants,
he walks slowly. His steps sing of the hills.
 

This poem brings me close to the narrator’s father. I feel the pain he feels about his brother climbing a mountain and never coming down. I believe the narrator is intrigued with the mystery of the absent uncle while the father is consumed with sadness and longing for a brother he once knew. -Rachel McGuinness, age 20

 
And when he stirs the thick coffee and grinds the cardamom seed
you think he feels like an American?
You think he forgets to call to prayer?
 

I love how all these images describe how this Arabic culture will never leave her dad without directly stating it. -Brooke Helder, age 16

 
Oh Uncle, forgive me, how long is your beard?
 
3.
 
Maybe you had other reasons.
Maybe you didn’t go up the mountain because you were angry.
This is what I am learning, the voice I hear when I wake at 3 a.m.
It says, Teach me how little I need to live
and I can’t tell if it is me talking, or you,
or the walls of the room. How little, how little,
and the world jokes and says, how much.
Money, events, ambitions, plans, oh Uncle,
I have made myself a quiet place in the swirl.
I think you would like it.
Yesterday I learned how many shavings of wood the knife discards
 

Seemingly insignificant, this line quietly reveals the astute observations that the speaker makes (such studious eyes of the poet, Nye). The focus on the wood shavings—the excess—is intriguing because most would hail the finished product: the spoon. Instead the narrator (and Nye) place importance on what is abandoned or left behind. And it is so that the narrator throughout the poem feels left behind. -Zachary Tomaszewski, age 22

 
to leave one smoothly whittled spoon.
Today I read angles of light through the window,
first they touch the floor, then the bed,
till everything is luminous, curtains flung wide.
 

I love the phrase “read angles of light,” as if they are something that can be understood, or have a certain revelatory power. -Sarah Branz, age 21

 
As for friends, they are fewer and dearer,
and the ones who remain seem also to be climbing mountains
in various ways, though we dreams we will meet at the top.
Will you be there?
Gazing out over valleys and olive orchards,
telling us sit, sit
you expected us all along.
 

She speaks of her uncle as if she knows him without knowing his full past or hearing from him. Her father adds to her opinion by not telling her anything. She has elevated her uncle into something great and powerful. She wants to ask him a million questions, to know him, but let him retain his mystery. She blames herself and her family for her uncle’s abandoning them. She wants to believe that he is kind and did not leave out of anger. In the end, she answers her own question. -Daisy Hall, age 14
What I love most about this poem is how perfectly the poet recreates that awe-inspiring admiration we all had for certain influential people in our lives as children. But I also love that the poet moves away from that childish outlook and focuses the poem on the realities adulthood brings. Not only is this poem about self-discovery, but it is also about coming to terms with the uncertain past of a family and trying to bridge the gap between childhood wonder and mature understanding. I think the poet succeeds at truthfully depicting the real differences and struggles that divide a family, while still holding on to that youthful optimism of the past. -Rian Bosse, age 23
Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.