May 12 – Naomi Shihab Nye “Famous”

Wednesday May 12

“The River is Famous to the fish”

Soon after Mother’s day with its fountains of affection and admiration, I woke early (5:00 am) as Sandhill Cranes and falcons dancing across their several altitude layers – wind columns playing with the soaring big birds, a refreshing high pressure system making it sweet and easy to breathe, these realities – memory, dynamic unpredictable dancing, can bring back memories from earlier moments of beauty.   Readers of the Work Day/Hard Time poetry list have long been schooled to expect hope and beauty side by side with violent wounds and savage grief.

Today, like every other, invites us to give attention to a strong poet;  today’s poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, is familiar, but her poem “Famous” is fresh for most of us.

Best to read the poet out loud, with pauses.  Have a blest day.


john sj


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.


Naomi Shihab Nye, b. 1952

Posted by kind permission of the author.  From Famous, by Naomi Shihab Nye, Wings Press.

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