Naomi Shihab Nye is one of my favorite poets. Like many of my favorite poets, I’ve heard her give a reading, and I’ve stood in line with a pile of her books to have her sign them. She was sweet and gracious. She was also the judge one year for a Wisconsin Poetry Contest, and she chose my poem for Honorable Mention. I'll always remember that.
I have so many favorite Naomi Shihab Nye poems, and it was hard to choose just one, but I like this one for its imagination and approachableness. It makes me want to write a “Famous” poem.
What are you famous to?
Naomi Shihab Nye
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.