The Art of Disappearing

September 14, 2006 at 5:58 pm 10 comments

Naomi Shihab Nye

Listen (to Pavi read)

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.

Pavi writes, “Why do I feel the need to defend this poem? Because I do. Feel the need. To defend this poem. I want to apologise behind its back for its anti-social tendencies, its unabashed unfriendliness and the rich texture of its rudeness. Not the kind of poem you could lean over and strike up a casual conversation with – without getting your head snapped off for your pains. That sort of poem. The kind that urges you to the verge of a resentful rejection of civilizations neatly composed niceties (That it makes you want to laugh out loud is beside the point– and bad manners besides– like encouraging a child who has just blurted out in the middle of polite company- something importantly true and deeply inappropriate) That said- let me say also, that Bill Moyers* carried this poem folded into his wallet after living past heart surgery. Now one doesn’t carry a poem around folded into one’s wallet after living past heart surgery on account of its richly textured rudeness- does one? No. When you hear past the poem’s prickly barricade what you hear rings out with the clear purity of that monastery bell at twilight that it makes mention of. A clarion call back to What Really Matters — couched in crusty curmudgeonliness and not a little sarcasm. If this poem has a sting– then trust it. The way you trust the brief burn of antiseptic on a wound. Because life, lived attentively, can be so much more than a littleness traveling between trivialities. Read the last lines and in spite of yourself feel this world and this moment turn incredibly precious beneath your fingertips.”


*Here is the transcript of an interview on PBS where Moyers talks to Nye about her family, poetry, and this poem among other things.


Entry filed under: Black Mamba, English, Naomi Shihab Nye, Pavi.

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Perspective Inc  |  September 15, 2006 at 6:17 am

    I love this poem.. for all its obvios rudeness, the end takes one by suprise.. its just brilliant!

  • 2. Sanket  |  September 15, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    This does not usually happen with me, but I knew I would like this poem as soon as I read the first couple of lines. The poem is not about loneliness, it’s rather a celebration of solitude. Very good.

  • 3. Pearl  |  September 17, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    Yes, kick @ss not kiss @ss sort of poem but with purpose and gentle focus in a way. Interesting balance.

  • 4. Pamela  |  March 29, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    This is a poem that describes the experience of mid-life (50+), if mid-life is embraced in all its painful unavoidableness.

  • 5. Anthony Tomeo  |  March 30, 2007 at 1:57 am

    I just think that the poem is lovely. I am so tired of begging attention from the world. Ms. Nye invites me to instead pay attention to myself and lavish in the gentleness of my own heart beat. Thank you so much.

  • […] ಅನುವಾದಿಸಿದ್ದೇನೆ. ನೋಡಿ. ಮೂಲ ಇಲ್ಲಿದೆ. ’ಗುರುತು ಹತ್ತಲಿಲ್ಲವೇ?’ ಎಂದವರು […]

  • 7. CPP  |  April 20, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Brilliant ~ we are invisible to all but ourselves ~ we must tend our own fires without hesitation, striving to keep our hearts and minds free from the clutter of the “nothing” to nurture the finest nature within humanity.

  • […] The Art of Disappearing – Naomi Shihab Nye […]

  • 9. Meenu Khare  |  August 14, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    the poem is lovely.

  • 10. HMW  |  August 23, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    I heard Nye read this poem during the Bill Moyers interview in October 2002. Then I was 52. Several of the lines resonated, and I began slowly to practice Nye’s sage wisdom. In two months I will turn 60. To paraphrase James Baldwin, “I will not live another 60 years.” The concluding stanza is even more precious.


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