Tag Archives: Naomi Shihab Nye

Girl on Bachelors Button

IMG_2706I knew that Bachelors Buttons get straggly, and that there was no obvious place that they would fit in my new garden, but I was drawn in by these phrases in the nursery description:

…well loved …. quite edible and delightful to sprinkle on cakes, in salads, and in herb infused waters …. range from deep clear blue to violet, deep burgundy, pale pink, fuchsia, and white…. grow to 3½ feet tall and flower continuously throughout the summer.

…so I bought a six-pack. I stuck them behind the playhouse where they grew leggily much higher that expected and are leaning on the hopbush. They are pretty if you focus on the colors of the flowers.

I went out this morning to take a picture before the sun broke all the way through the fog, and soon realized that a bee was enjoying them at the same time, surely even more than I. She is on a pale pink bloom in the upper left of this top photo. I began to focus on the fauna on my flora.

Now I can add her to my collection of bees on flowers. She was the easiest one I’ve ever tried to catch in the middle of her work, and she makes me glad I planted these buttons.

gl IMG_2716 bee on bachelor's button blue

Suddenly it occurs to me to post Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Girls, Girls” in its entirety. It is about these insects, and is what made me realize that I want to use the female pronoun when talking about them.


When the boys are alone,
they wash the dishes with facecloths.

When a honeybee is alone — rare, very rare —
it tastes the sweetness
it lives inside all the time.

What pollen are we gathering, anyway?
Bees take naps, too.
Maybe honeybees taste pollen side by side
pretending they’re alone.
Maybe the concept of “alone” means nothing
in a hive.

A bumblebee is not a honeybee.
It only pretends to be.

The cell phone in your pocket
buzzes against your leg.
It’s not a honeybee, though. It’s just a
mining bee, or leaf-cutter, or

You’re stung by messages from people far away.
You can’t make anyone well.
You can’t stop a war.
What good are you?

Bees drink from thousands of flowers,
spitting up nectar
so you may have honey
in your tea.

Maybe you don’t want to think about it
so much.
Pass the honey please.

During winter, bees lock legs
and beat wings fast to stay warm.
Fifty thousand bees can live in
a single hive.
Clover honey is most popular
and clover is a weed.
All the worker bees are female.
Why is that no surprise?

-Naomi Shihab Nye, from Honeybee

gl IMG_2728 irish bee from scotland 05











Above, a bee decoration made in Ireland,
which I bought when Pippin and I were in Scotland.

Happiness floats.

As I drove away from the Office Max parking lot yesterday afternoon, “Scheherazade” was playing on the radio, and I crossed myself in a prayer, and immediately wondered why I did that. Why was I suddenly so full of joy and peace that I had to acknowledge the Holy Trinity and the fact that I was in His presence? It was a response to the beauty of the music, and a praise to the Creator of humans in His image, who are empowered to become co-creators after Him. But it was also a gift, unexplainable, this gladness to be alive. It is something to accept, and a place to live in, for however many moments I can keep it.

I have been reading a lot of poems lately. I want to say I’ve browsed through volumes large and small, collections by various poets….but I think a different word would be more honest, something like rummaged or skipped, or plowed. It doesn’t seem very respectful of the poets’ work, or quite civilized — until I find a poem to sink into, and then I am calmed and fed.

This morning I am sitting in the garden, listening to the fountain gurgle nearby. Also to the vague rock music coming through the walls of one neighbor’s house, and a saw sound buzzing over from another neighbor. After I finished breakfast I copied a couple of poems by Naomi Shihab Nye into my notebook, but this one I wanted to put up here instead, as it reminded me of that wonderful minute that I was given yesterday.

So Much Happiness

for Michael

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

-Naomi Shihab Nye

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



What summer is for.

Do you know how hard it is to pick up just one book at the library? I managed to do it twice this week and I felt my self-control as a great freedom; I didn’t even go into the used bookstore that is off the lobby. But since then everything has changed.d76bf-beefromside

“People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.” –Saul Bellow

When I was a child we lived ten miles from the nearest public library, and I never visited it until high school. I had lovely hours in the library in Berkeley when in the summers I visited my grandmother, and she would leave my sisters and me there for a while, and come back later when we had picked out a stack to take home. I remember checking out Anna Pavlova and Little Men when I was ten, and lying outdoors on a cot in the afternoons, in the mountains with Grandma at the Berkeley City Camp. When not at Grandma’s, our summers were too hot to manage much activity, so I sat indoors in an easy chair and read a book every day in those carefree days of youth, supplied by the bookmobile.

I think one of the books I read then was Seventeen by Booth Tarkington. When Bellezza wrote recently about Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly, I thought that was it, and I bought a used paperback and have been reading it, but it’s not what I remember. So I hopefully borrowed Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen from the library (closed stacks), and it’s waiting for me now. In no time at all I should be getting to it, because the Daly book is hard to put down. How can that be?

The backdrop of the story is the most luscious and lazy summer imaginable, evoked very effectively by the author’s prose. But when I’m reading it at night I don’t fall asleep, and one morning when I was still in recovery mode (She says, wondering if she will ever again not be in recovery mode…) I picked it up from my nightstand and read for an hour before getting out of bed. It is a book that makes me feel something of the leisure of my youth, when there was no need to hurry. Absolutely no need.14110-beeonflowerfrted

The worst way to read, he said, is with the thought that you do not have enough time. The only way to read is in the knowledge that there is an infinite amount of time stretching ahead, and that if one wishes to taste only a few sentences per day one is free to do so. –Gabriel Josipovici, Moo Pak

Last week on my way home from visiting my children I listened to Mary Norris reading her own Between You and Me, a book that has made me laugh out loud countless times, all by myself in the car. I’m so glad she narrated her own book, and I love her voice and her humor. She reminds me of the women in my father’s family. I could not be content, though, to only listen to it — I must have my own print copy. So I ordered one online. But I could not be content to wait for that to be shipped, and I discovered that the local library had a copy, so that was the first book I picked up.

Two days later Seventeen became available, so I went back for it. Today a dear person sent me a link to a Naomi Shihab Nye poem, “Different Ways to Pray,” and reading it confirmed in me the feeling I’ve had that I need to calm myself and sink into some poetry. I began to read more about Nye and her books. I saw that my local library had a couple of collections by her, and I also ran across this that she said:

There is a Thai saying: ‘Life is so short, we must move very slowly,’ ….Being busy has become our calling card, our sign of success, our obsession—but poetry doesn’t want us to be busy. When you live in a rapidly moving swirl, you can only view your surroundings with a glance. Poetry requires us to slow down, to take time to pause.

So I hurried over to the library and found 4c80e-gjreadhobbitwo27dellcrpthe one children’s book by Nye that I wanted…. and then I found a few more children’s poetry books to take with me; that’s probably the level that I am most likely to access currently.

Then on to the adult non-fiction and another book by Nye… but I could not make myself leave as quickly as I’d come. There I was with shelves of poetry and literature towering on either side of me, and I had to scan some titles, and take a few books down, and notice that a couple of my favorite poets were not even there! The armload I carried to my car included Robert Bly and W.S. Merwin.

Now, will I manage to sink in and let the poetry teach me to move. very. slowly…? I am finding it difficult to quiet down today; it seems that the effort to truly rest is wearing me out. Maybe that’s because I was awake past midnight reading about Angie, whose life before cordless phones and TV served up a flavor of time that we can hardly remember the taste of. Angie speaks of doing “leisurely things like ironing or peeling potatoes for dinner.” (Hinting at an attitude among teens that also may have become extinct soon after this book was written.) If she hadn’t recently fallen in love she’d probably be reading on the porch swing in the warm afternoons, too.

After all this rambling around the subject, I feel I must leave you with at least a little piece of a poem. So here are some lines from Nye’s children’s poetry collection titled Honeybee. They are from the poem “Girls, Girls”:8ec4e-beeinshadowlambsears

When a honeybee is alone–rare, very rare–
It tastes the sweetness
It lives inside all the time.

What pollen are we gathering, anyway?
Bees take naps, too….