My saint, and a buttonhole.

On June 27th we remember my patron saint, Joanna the Myrrhbearer. She is somewhat well-known among Christians as one of the women who cared for the needs of our Lord during his earthly ministry, and she was blessed to be present at the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection, and to hear the angel say, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” The angel’s question is one that I have found it helpful to ask myself this year, since Pascha especially.

Today I read this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye on different ways to be famous, and it’s helping me enter into the spirit of my name day. I first read it in an anthology published ten years after the poet’s own collection that includes it, and somehow in my library copy of 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, selected by Billy Collins, the last two words of the poem had been changed to “did.” The meaning I extract from the one-word ending makes a big difference to me, and I prefer it, but I’m afraid it must have been a typo. I’m glad I read it the “wrong way” first, because it gives me two more possibilities to weigh and reflect on.


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.

-Naomi Shihab Nye, from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems



8 thoughts on “My saint, and a buttonhole.

  1. Billy Collins’ name was the first thing that my eyes spotted in your lovely post today, for he is perhaps my favourite poet nowadays, the title having been previously held by Robert Frost during my university days. I have two of the former’s anthologies and I have read them several times, never tiring of them, on the contrary, feeling refreshed after each new reading.

    Today, All Saints Day, we observed a most beautiful and inspiring service at our church, All Saints Greek Orthodox Church, here in Toronto, conducted by His Eminence Metropolitan Archbishop Sotirios Athanassoulas.

    Happy Name Day, tomorrow, Gretchen Joanna; all the very best in health, love, and happiness.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The boot is famous to the earth,
    more famous than the dress shoe,
    which is famous only to floors.”

    I love this part! Enjoyed the whole poem, for that matter. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Naomi Nye lives in the city where i lived for many years. I was priviliged to be at a writing workshop that she did for teachers and she really embodies that poem, she is a lovely person with real humility. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

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