The poem I carry in my pocket today has been a touchstone for years, as has the poet, the wonderful Arab-American writer Naomi Shihab Nye. May we all cultivate and encounter kindness in this life so threaded with sorrow.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
To all my lovely readers, friends, and random stumblers-upon,
Have you mostly been sitting behind a screen this month, scrolling through poems in isolation and then moving on with your day? Do your friends not know you actually like poetry? Has one line of verse been haunting, confusing, or delighting you for weeks?
How about you invite others to share in that experience with you for a day? Please join me tomorrow, Tuesday April 24, in celebrating one of my favorite not-actual-but-should-be-official holidays, Poem in Your Pocket Day.
The “rules” of celebrating this day are pretty simple. Put a poem in your pocket. You got that part already. Now you can’t just let it fester there all day. Read it to a friend over lunch, startle your coworkers at a meeting, recite one to your partner before bed. Or if you’d rather share quietly, slip some verse into the pocket of a loved one, leave one at a cafe table, or print out dozens of poems, as I’ve down for years, and plaster them all over your residence, your office… you get the point here. You’d be surprised how grateful people will be when they encounter these gifts of words you’ve left behind.
And, if you are so inclined, please comment with the poems you decide to share. My pockets are ready to be filled.*
(* This is the same text I’ve used the past few years. Apologies for taking this blogging shortcut, but I figured there was no point reinventing the wheel on this!)
Today I carry with me, in my pocket and in my heart, these necessary words by the great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000).
“The Place Where We Are Right”
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.