Poetry for Building Community by Naomi Shihab Nye


Naomi Shihab Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit.

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is

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.

For Reflection: Communities are built on knowing and being known. In a culture that claims to love influence and publicly curating a particular style, the actual intimacy of knowing is rare. The public nature of our media has led us astray in seeking fame through retweets and likes, rather than directing us to do well in building the common good in the places where we naturally belong.

Nye’s meditation in “Famous” is a reminder that our imaginations have been compromised by the pervasive desire for fame and notoriety. Each person or object has its own way of being known and loved when it does the thing it was designed to do, or the thing that connects it to its place and time.

Consider what might stand in the way of you letting yourself be known. How does the desire to be famous keep you from connecting deeply with the people and places right in front of you?

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