The Art of Disappearing
When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone is telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
Naomi Shihab Nye, from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books, 1995)
I am indebted to Molly Larson Cook of the Skylark Writing Studio blog for introducing me to this poem. Having read my various posts about being in attendance at Things, Molly suggested the poem would resonate with me.
This is an understatement. It was more like being run over by the proverbial truck.
Darkly comic, icily observed, and with just the right amount of living detail (‘Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate’: brilliant!), the poem captures what it is like to negotiate the public demands of ‘being a writer’, albeit on a small scale.
Its settings are the private, interior world of landscape and memory (‘Trees. The monastery bell at twilight’) out of which poems come, and the more insistent world of small talk (‘Tell them you have a new project’) and paper plates. In its slow motion traversing between these two states the poem reminds me of Tranströmer, whose phrase ‘face coated with clay’ (from ‘Alone) is a good summary of the awkwardness engendered by the effort of keeping up appearances.
The poem appears to end with the worst kind of strategy for a poem, that of passing on advice: ‘Walk around feeling like a leaf./ Know you could tumble any second./ Then decide what to do with your time.’ The openendedness of the final line, however, keeps the dream of the poem alive. No resolution has taken place. We are free to make whatever choice we want. To attend the party, and, once there, give ourselves away. Or remember what really matters, prisoners of time that we are.
If you liked this, why not try Marin Sorescu’s ‘With Only One Life’ or Mandy Coe’s ‘Let’s Celebrate’
Thank you. I needed to hear that! – Am enjoying all your posts, as usual.
On 22/07/2014 06:00, “Musings of an itinerant lawyer” wrote:
> Anthony Wilson posted: ” The Art of Disappearing When they say Don’t I know > you? say no. When they invite you to the party remember what parties are like > before answering. Someone is telling you in a loud voice they once wrote a > poem. ” >
I’m so pleased you saw and liked this Roselle.
This means a lot to me, A x
just what I needed to read after hectic 2 weeks. spoke to me in a whole manner of ways . thank you. Adam x
Thank you for saying so. This is the same effect the poem had on me. It’s why I call them Lifesaving.
With good wishes
A wonderful poem, Anthony, thanks, which I didn’t know, though I’ve read other poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. It is so apt for me at the moment. I’m reminded of Stephen Covey’s words ‘the good is the enemy of the best’ – describing how easy it is to let ourselves be distracted, for good reason, but not the best reason.
Thanks so much for your comment -those are wise words indeed. I should write them down.
Where’s my notebook now?
Hope all is well and great to hear from you
Anthony…I’m delighted to see Naomi’s poem here and honored to be mentioned. I so enjoyed your comments on the poem, as well as those of other who commented here. Your posts are a gift that I share with many other poet friends across the U.S. The words do indeed save us…
As ever, Molly
I’m so pleased you saw this and am deeply grateful for your recommendation.
And thank you for spreading the word. I’m grateful you see.
As ever with thanks
Superbly real poem! Loved your commentary, AW. So refreshing, both! I am going to track this poet down instanta!
I’m so pleased you saw this. The book the poem comes from is wonderful. Treat yourself.
Thank you, Anthony. My poem is honored by your terrific remarks on it.
Dear Naomi, thank you! I feel as though I have been visited by the Queen!
Thank *you* for your amazing poem!
With good wishes
This is pure heart.
Came to this while searching for Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Journey.” Nye’s poem is a real bonus. Both poems hit close to home, reminding us to remember who we are and to value our time. “Lifesaving Poems” indeed. Blessings.
Thank you. I’m so pleased you found Mary’s poem and had the bonus of Naomi’s.
What great writers to have been blessed with.
Blessings to you, too.
Is the poet’s heart two sizes too small?
Because saying no is ok. Isn’t it?
Does the poet, the rock star and the blogger owe respects to an audience that hasn’t paid for an admission ticket today?
Why must we be a blessing unto each other in every manner and way?
Who said so? Or made the suggestion?
Isn’t it ok to be a bitch? Now and then.
This is pure heart.
Wonderful. I’m not a writer, but as an introvert I find this resonates with me.
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Thank you so much for introducing me to this poem. I get welled up when I think of the odds of finding this poem other than from your collection. I check your blog almost everyday.
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Thank you so much for saying so. I appreciate your support. As ever, Anthony
Magnificent! Thank you.