Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

The Words of Naomi Shihab Nye

There are a lot of poets that I did not have the opportunity to meet in my lit classes in college. Not to show my age to obviously, but many modern poets, including Billy Collins who I shared earlier did not publish prior to my graduation. As a result, I came to know their work through cruises through the virtual shelves of and reading writing books with suggested reading lists.

One such poet is Naomi Shihab Nye. She is an Palestinian-American who has written several books of poetry and fiction, including some for children. She was elected the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2009.

The first poem I’d like to share is from her book, Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (1995).

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.


The other poem I wanted to share is from the same book. Something about her use of words just glows. 🙂


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 a 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.


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