Thursday, April 06, 2006

Poetry Thursday - Wrapping Myself in Something Familiar

I don't care for a lot of the early poets. In fact, there are many poets from the early years of the 19th century that I don't care for either. I get lost in their outdated language and their heavy use of metaphors. I prefer poets who give it to me straight. Give me a poet who uses modern day language. Or better yet, give me a poet who uses modern day language with a bit of a Texas drawl. Now that I can get. And perhaps that is one of the reasons I have a great appreciation for Naomi Shihab Nye. She was born in St. Louis, MO to a Palestinian father and an American mother but she has resided in San Antonio, TX since her college years. Because of her dual heritage, her poems are filled with images from two very different cultures. She writes about bridging the gap between these two places of belonging, about prejudice, about the pull of differing values and experiences. She writes from the unique perspective of a woman at home in two different worlds. And she also writes about a life that is very familiar to me. It is familiar because it's in my backyard. When she writes about picking peaches in Fredericksburg I can relate. I've held those luscious softball sized peaches in my hands and let the juice drip down my arms. My grandmother has made the best homemade peach ice cream with those peaches. When she writes about the tumbleweeds in Portales, NM I know exactly what she's talking about. I was born in Portales, NM. She writes about streets I've walked. She writes about a land that I call home. Her son even attends the University where I work. She is my neighbor...well, not literally but symbolically. Sometimes with poetry it is easy to get lost in the language, in the symbolism, in the rhyme and meter. And when that happens it's nice to be able to come home to someone who writes about the world right in my own backyard.

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till you voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.


Blogger Misty Mawn said...


The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Katie Just posted this on her blog...I am really feeling that this world is full of people with strong connections! It's beautiful!

9:25 PM  
Blogger Elaine said...

Totally unrelated, but I can't find your "unusual" post! On MSO you only posted your blog main page and not the direct link! I'm going to pull off your current entry so you can help up find the "unusual" post by resubmitting. I really want to read it!

10:01 PM  
Blogger snowsparkle said...

one of my all time favorite poems... thanks for bringing it to me at just the right moment.

12:43 AM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

i have never heard of her before
and i have to say
and thank you...

that was a great way
to start my day

3:41 AM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

How utterly wonderful to have a poet who writes about places and feelings you can so deeply resonate with...I wish I could find a poet who writes about my 'home' places.

3:48 AM  
Blogger acumamakiki said...

I too, don't care for the early poets which is why I always say I don't care for poetry. This poem though, I totally related to. If you would, please share more of your favorite modern=day poets with me; I'm certain that I'm missing something good here.

3:57 AM  
Anonymous beansprout said...

Love the simplicity of her words...thanks for sharing this.

4:12 AM  
Anonymous krista said...

I think that is really awesome that you found a writer who writes about "the world in your own backyard." The poem is thoughtful, and so is your post.

I love that she writes about bridging the gap between those two places of belonging, and the pulls and differing values and experiences.

Your description of her writing intrigues me just as much as her poem does.

5:51 AM  
Blogger kelly said...


i have always struggled with poetry. i almost flunked a lit
class in college - i couldn't follow any of the writings and i
didn't even care. but this! this
really speaks. thanks for sharing.

6:08 AM  
Blogger BohemeMama said...

I love this. Have you read Jane Mayhall or Gary Rosenthal?

6:57 AM  
Blogger mayseek life said...

i am gripped by the blues this past day -but so many moments help me remember to trust that they will change color...this poem and your sharing it is such a moment.

7:05 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

I have a cup of those beautiful "flowers" on my table right now. My son picked them for me yesterday. :)

Lovely poem.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

I can't wait to find a collection of Naomi Shihab Nye's poetry, and read about places that are familiar to me, too. We lived in both Lubbock and San Antonio. I've bought Fredericksburg peaches from farmers selling out of the back of pickups, and I've even brought a N.M. tumbleweed home to try to preserve with paint because it was such beautiful architecture (but it disintegrated quickly). Thank you for sharing - of yourself and of Nye.

7:56 AM  
Blogger ESB said...

wow, beautiful.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Deb R said...

That's beautiful, Michelle!

8:14 AM  
Blogger The Whole Self said...

she's my favorite poet- i could read her poems over and over.

10:31 AM  
Blogger katie said...

i love this one too - what serendipidy that we should both post her poetry within a day of one another :-)

11:14 AM  
Blogger dani said...

this is so beautiful. and something i want to give to a friend because it says everything the way i wish i could say it.

thank you for sharing this michelle!

3:04 PM  
Blogger Josephine said...

This is my favorite poem. So right, so beautiful.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

I was so happy to see work by Naomi Shihab Nye here. I've read so many great poetry posts today. Thank you.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Letha Sandison said...

Wow, that is so beautiful I had never read that before. It was so approprite for me to read right now. A great reminder of why things go in cycles, the downs are just as important as the ups.

Thank you so much!

8:03 PM  
Anonymous samantha said...

This was powerful. I struggle with early poets, too, and so this is a treat indeed. I will think about this sort of kindness all day. I do hope that it will help me as I houseclean, if it can help you buy break and send letters!

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree early poets are an aquired taste and I struggled a lot at first with them as well. But I love contemporary too because just as you say, they say it. Where as you always have to decipher meaning in earlier poets. It is hard.

That poem was so beautiful and relatable. Beautiful!

Sentimental *shannon*

6:49 PM  

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