One of my favorite poets over the years has been Naomi Shihab Nye. From “Valentine for Ernest Mann” to “Rebellion Vs. the West Side” to “Words Under the Words,” her work speaks plain and resonates long after its ending lines. Her poems about children and family especially affect me, but “Famous” is one of my favorites:
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 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.
If you want to write:
1. Use Nye’s anaphoric structure – the ________is famous to the _________ – to generate your own list.
2. Write a poem about what you would like to be famous for.