The Art of Disappearing
Naomi Shihab Nye
When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
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.