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