04 April 2008

"tell them you have a new project. it will never be finished."

and so. eventful week. and these are things not totally related to poems, but they likely will be sometime very soon, and so, let's begin:

1. my crazy neighbors have been, from all discernible signs, evicted. there is a sign made of red construction paper and written in black messy sharpie on the door that reads: "locks have been changed. if you forgot anything, please call mgr."

this is -- how else to say it? -- a tremendous relief.

this means: no more midnight knocks on the door to ask if my walk needs shoveling for five dollars when it is well below freezing outside and not even well-furred and well-insulated bears should be wandering the streets.

no more creepy christmas presents -- "crystal" angels that sit upon mirrors with their chipped wings, their broken noses; slippers in a size 6 1/2 that wouldn't fit even if i cut off half my foot -- ugly stepsister, indeed; a bracelet, with gold hearts and rhinestones, that i might have loved if i were five years old and wandering through k-mart's costume jewelry section.

no more emma yelling, "hey, girl! my name is emma! whenever you see me, you say, 'hey emma!' say it! SAY IT!"

no more of emma's son coming out in the morning (when, again, it's too cold for bears) to watch me get in my car, hollering, "hey sexy!" because, i promise you, in the a.m., i ain't anywhere near sexy, and no one should be using that word anyhow. especially not him.

now, i am in no way celebrating that they have no home. that would make me an awful person. i wish them well, i do. i just don't want to tell them in person.

2. vienna teng. my father (who, except for the month of the gregorian chants) has very good taste in music (by which i mean, it often overlaps with mine), and he sent me the website of this singer/piano player. i bought her album, dreaming through the noise, the other day, and have listened to nothing else since. go, go ye, and get it. a.s.a.p.

3. i made it through 60 student conferences. my students are wonderful; the difficulty is sitting in my fluorescent-lit office (where one colleague recommended that i put a picture of a window up, just to help...) for 12 hours a day and getting caught playing online scrabble between conferences.

4. i cleaned my house. remarkable feat, that.

and so, i'm thinking of a celebratory kind of poem. one that sort of lifts my heart up further (which is hard to do; after the bathroom's clean, it's sort of like i say to myself, "well, nowhere to go but down..."). and so, here's this one. and, like everything i think is celebratory, this one has its blue, sweet darkness, too. but oh, i have loved this poem since i was sixteen years old, and have not stopped loving it since.

and somehow, the lines, "someone telling you in a loud voice/they once wrote a poem," always make me laugh. because this happens a lot with poets who tell someone they're poets. and maybe it's that the person is trying to make a connection, trying to say, "i understand what you do." which, if that were the case, would be lovely. what it more often feels like is that the subtext is: "oh, i can do that. and also, i have a real job, which you're gonna need if you keep saying you're 'a poet.'"

and i know this is going to make me sound elitist, and for this i apologize, but there is a sense in this culture, in this world, that really, if you know your letters, if you have access to a pen, and you have emotions, you, too, can write poems. and in part, that's absolutely true. but it's the view that writing is not a craft, not an art that's studied and learned, like any profession, that gets on my nerves a bit. one woman, a real estate agent, interviewed on NPR the other day said, "well, if real estate doesn't go well for me in the next couple of years, i think i'll quit and be a writer instead." and i thought: *sigh.* it's not that folks can't quit their jobs and become writers (see also: john grisham, who makes more money in a year than i will ever see together in one place). it's just the perception that writing is easy, that writing a "good" poem or story (which we don't really know how to define, which makes it even harder to make this argument) is easy. and really, after working at it for years, and studying it for years, i still struggle with it. and it's my job.

for me, it comes down to respect, i guess. the same thing is said about teachers (you all have heard that awful phrase, "those who can, do; those who can't, teach" -- which, again, after having been in several classrooms over these last few years, i can tell you is simply not true). and i've been fighting this same battle for years, which is likely why i'm so full of piss and vinegar about it here (see also: the boyfriend who told me that "if poetry were important, he would do it"). and of course, living in a culture that values money more than (am i really going to use this phrase? yes, yes i am) soul-work, this kind of disrespect is, i suppose, inevitable.

but i do value other people's professions, other choices, and i keep working at it, and isn't that all we can do? and i know -- beyond a shadow of a doubt -- that i'd really, really suck at selling real estate, but that's the reason i don't say, "you know, if this poetry thing doesn't work out, i think i'll just go sell real estate."

and that's enough (too much?) of that rant... onto the poem, the brilliant poem:


The Art of Disappearing

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

When they say Don't I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.

Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It's not that you don't love them anymore.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. 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.


(published in The Language of Life, ed. Bill Moyers. New York: Doubleday, 1995).

4 comments:

Talia said...

I love Nye. I haven't read enough of her poetry. Prof. Bender introduced me to her in Adolescent Lit when we read "Habibi." I knew that woman had to be a poet when I read that book--which is adolescent lit, but written so well, everyone should read it.

sallylynn said...

i'm so glad you know her work and love her work -- she was really the first poet i ever found and "got."

and her interview in _the language of life_ is really lovely, too, if you get a chance to look it up.

Anonymous said...

i love reading your posts...i open the internet every morning and click on your blog which is saved in "my favorites". If you've posted, I put the coffee on and wait to read it until I have my perfect cup of coffee in hand...there is a sweet build up of anticipation while the coffee brews as I know this cup will not be taken for granted but savored and enjoyed as I savor and enjoy your posts. thanks for sharing, Sally.

sallylynn said...

my dear anonymous,

that's the nicest thing i've heard all day. thank you. and thank you for reading.

and now you've inspired me to write another one. :)