In the latest edition of “Village Voice,” Jim and Margery celebrate poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye with poet Richard Blanco.
“I thought we’d highlight her work because there’s just so much going on, everything has been so overwhelming lately. Her work has a spiritual and ethereal quality that I thought might serve as a counterbalance to some of the madness out there.”
Tune in to hear the discussion and read along with the poems listed below!
“We clean to give space for Art.”
Micaela Miranda, Freedom Theatre, Palestine
Work was a shining refuge when wind sank its tooth
into my mind. Everything we love is going away,
drifting – but you could sweep this stretch of floor,
this patio or porch, gather white stones in a bucket,
rake the patch for future planting, mop the counter
with a rag. Lovely wet gray rag, squeeze it hard
it does so much. Clear the yard of blowing bits of plastic.
The glory in the doing. The breath of the doing.
Sometimes the simplest move kept fear from
fragmenting into no energy at all, or sorrow from
multiplying, or sorrow from being the only person
living in the house.
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 your 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 gaze at 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.
How Do I Know When a Poem is Finished?
When you quietly close
the door to a room
the room is not finished.
It is resting. Temporarily.
Glad to be without you
for a while.
Now it has time to gather
its balls of gray dust,
to pitch them from corner to corner.
Now it seeps back into itself,
unruffled and proud.
Outlines grow firmer.
When you return,
you might move the stack of books,
freshen the water for the roses.
I think you could keep doing this
forever. But the blue chair looks best
with the red pillow. So you might as well
leave it that way.
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.
This episode of “Village Voice” aired on WGBH Boston Public Radio on September 28th, 2020.