This week and next I have been / will be in a writing workshop with visiting writer Naomi Shihab Nye. This will be my last "class" ever as a student. I was thinking of dropping it because I'm just so tired, and there's grading and PhD paperwork to format, but I'm glad I stayed in because she is such a lively, inquisitive, passionate person. For example, I think she is on a mission to eat at every locally-owned restaurant in town, and this weekend is visiting the sandhills and the migrating cranes. And she really, really likes W.S. Merwin and William Stafford. Check plus plus.
Here are two poems of hers I particularly enjoy for their silences (which is what makes a good poem so lasting and meaningful, not the words):
The Art of Disappearing
When they say Don't I know you? say no.
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say we should get together.
say why? It's not that you don't love them any more.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished. When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven't seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don't start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time.
A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.
One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.
If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.
Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
into another one, they walk the short streets
calling out names, and then they answer.