Hugging The Jukebox Poem by Naomi Shihab Nye

Hugging The Jukebox

Rating: 3.5


On an island the soft hue of memory,
moss green, kerosene yellow, drifting, mingling
in the Caribbean Sea,
a six-year-old named Alfred
learns all the words to all the songs
on his grandparents’ jukebox, and sings them.
To learn the words is not so hard.
Many barmaids and teenagers have done as well.
But to sing as Alfred sings—
how can a giant whale live in the small pool of his chest?
How can there be breakers this high, notes crashing
at the beach of the throat,
and a reef of coral so enormous only the fishes know its size?

The grandparents watch. They can’t sing.
They don’t know who this voice is, trapped in their grandson’s body.
The boy whose parents sent him back to the island
to chatter mango-talk and scrap with chickens—
three years ago he didn’t know the word “sad”!
Now he strings a hundred passionate sentences on a single line.
He bangs his fist so they will raise the volume.

What will they do together in their old age?
It is hard enough keeping yourself alive.
And this wild boy, loving nothing but music—
he’ll sing all night, hugging the jukebox.
When a record pauses, that live second before dropping down,
Alfred hugs tighter, arms stretched wide,
head pressed on the luminous belly. “Now!” he yells.
A half-smile when the needle breathes again.

They’ve tried putting him to bed, but he sings in bed.
Even in Spanish—and he doesn’t speak Spanish!
Sings and screams, wants to go back to the jukebox.
O mama I was born with a trumpet in my throat
spent all these years tryin’ to cough it up …

He can’t even read yet. He can’t tell time.
But he sings, and the chairs in this old dance hall jerk to attention.
The grandparents lean on the counter, shaking their heads.
The customers stop talking and stare, goosey bumps surfacing on their arms.
His voice carries out to the water where boats are tied
and sings for all of them, a wave.
For the hens, now roosting in trees,
for the mute boy next door, his second-best friend.
And for the hurricane, now brewing near Barbados—
a week forward neighbors will be hammering boards over their windows,
rounding up dogs and fishing lines,
the generators will quit with solemn clicks in every yard.

But Alfred, hugging a sleeping jukebox, the names of the tunes gone dark,
will still be singing, doubly loud now, teasing his grandmother,
“Put a coin in my mouth!” and believing what she wants to believe;
this is not the end of the island, or the tablets this life has been
scribbled on, or the song.

Utila, Honduras

COMMENTS OF THE POEM
Bernard F. Asuncion 20 April 2019

One of the best poems by Naomi Shihab Nye.......

1 2 Reply
Sylvia Frances Chan 20 April 2019

A most beautiful worded poem. Very spontaneous, freshened and alive. Once I started to read this poem, I keep reading till the last line, perhaps I kept my breath deepest inside, but in any case, this poem is so breath taking, heart warming, no I won't be melancholic, but after having read this poem about a wonderboy Alfred, whose life IS MUSIC. He was born with a trumpet in his throat, I became music myself. Wow, how infectious is an excellent

1 2 Reply
Sylvia Frances Chan 20 April 2019

(2) ..How infectious is an excellent poem. CONGRATULATIONS, dear great Poetess, PH has chosen your poems more than once, I know that, and your poem most deserves that with the writer behind the poem of course. Hurray, most deserved. I am truly happy for you. Like you I am a wanderer too. God's Blessings in Abundance. Amen.

1 2 Reply
Sylvia Frances Chan 20 April 2019

(3) The great poetess is a songwriter, and novelist too. She was born to a Palestinian father and American mother. Although she regards herself as a " wandering poet" , she refers to San Antonio as her home. Like YOU, dear great poetess, I love traveling and I call myself Word Traveler, since I had seen most of the world's places, in the USA too

1 2 Reply
Edward Kofi Louis 20 April 2019

Grandparents watched! ! ! ! In their old age. ??? Thanks for sharing this poem with us.

2 0 Reply
Keith Brown 03 May 2020

Great read, all consuming passion, good or? Congratulation on mod poem

0 0 Reply
Keith Brown 03 May 2020

Great read, all consuming passion, good or?

0 0 Reply
Jasbir Chatterjee 20 April 2020

Lovely poem. There are so many Alfreds all over the world who remain undiscovered. Congratulations on having this chosen as the poem of the day.

0 0 Reply
Kumarmani Mahakul 20 April 2020

Congratulations for being selected this poem as the modern poem of the poem of the day for second time.

0 1 Reply
Ratnakar Mandlik 20 April 2020

The melody as also the emotional contents are superb and captivating. Well deserved modern poem of the day.

0 1 Reply
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Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye

St. Louis, Missouri
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