New feature — Poetry Wednesday

If you know me, you know my poet’s heart.  Inspired by other writers’ blogs, I’ve decided to christen Wednesdays to be Poetry Wednesdays (shut up, if you have a better name, send it to me!).  On this day each week I’ll post a favorite (oh, god, so many!)  by a new (or old, familiar) writer, or perhaps (gasp!) share one of my own.  

On this inaugural day, here’s one by a favorite poet, Naomi Shihab Nye.  For years I shared this one with my students…I always hoped it resonated with them as much as it did me.




The river is famous to the fish.


The loud voice is famous to the 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 the way a pulley is famous,

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,

but because it never forgot what it could do.


from Words Under Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye,

1995, Far Corner Books


Whenever I read this poem, I think of my mother, who continues to inspire me every day.   She has spent a lifetime with a quiet, strong voice, guiding and nurturing everyone around her, famous for the things she did reflexively — 20 years later, my high school friends still rave about her Friday night pizza open houses — and for the things she did courageously.

I remember the moment I learned that my mother was a person outside of her role as mother or wife.  God, I was so old!  How could I have never seen it before?  Looking back, it is not strange at all to me now that this moment of discovery was linked to poetry.  I don’t know what she has written, but my mother has always been a poet.  For her, for her fame, for that moment I saw clearly, I wrote this poem:


Salad Bowl


The sudden stranger chopping garlic

wears my mother’s soft body

and doesn’t pause in her cooking

to acknowledge the careless remark,

while I stare, frozen, slack-jawed,

red pen still marking scribbled

eighth grade compositions.


She is my mother

(I check to make sure)

this familiar figure who,

through giving birth to four children,

gave up another kind of life.  She

uses the torn, tomato-stained apron

to wipe the comment away from her hands

along with olive oil and garlic peels —

my mother’s hands, the ones

that taught me how to make meatballs,

plant marigolds.


I watch her move on to salad greens

while sipping ice-water, shrewdly

choosing crisp arugula over iceberg,

sprinkling parsley and oregano

as the writer does with verbs and nouns,

precisely, each selected 

for taste and clarity.  I wait for her

to finish the thought somehow but

her words hang in the air,


stirred by the overhead fan,

spinning in echoes over me, her daughter —

I’ve always wanted to write poetry, said my mother,

and every steel girder in my life’s framework

crumbles like the blue cheese

she has now tossed among

the red peppers and mushrooms,

its singularity lost forever when

mixed in a scarred wooden salad bowl.



Remember:  you are famous to somebody.

And, Mom.  You do write poetry.  You always have.


3 thoughts on “New feature — Poetry Wednesday

  1. nice! love both the poems! perhaps you should ask dad to send you a copy of his “ode to 399” … i’m thinking about using it in my blog!

  2. Thanks Jen for reminding us of Moms many talents which far outweigh her liabilities.

    I can still hear her asking for more drugs as you worked your way into our lives , just as your other sibs did, ( before & after).

    As Mom said “you are a Poem” .

    Continue your writing and I look forward to more poems by Jen.

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