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October 21, 2007

"Valentine for Ernest Mann" by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn't understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

--This poem maps the origin of poetry itself. The eyes of the skunk, shoes, shadows, etc. become landmarks on the map. To travel to these places means to find, quite possibly, a poem.

Posted by pbali at October 21, 2007 02:34 PM


I love this poem. It explains to me what I cannot do, in a sense. I am so litteral, and have such a hard time stepping away from my logical box, that poems, even when presented to me as such, take on little to no meaning. I wish I could see the beauty in the eyes of a skunk, and I have great respect for those who can. I like how you presented this poem as a map of the origin of poetry. Maybe it is a map of the origin of poetry, and maybe it is a map of poetry itself...can a map be the thing itself?

Posted by: stablowz at November 5, 2007 07:56 PM

I find it almost impossible to not find a poam wherever I travel. I think that poam-finding (and poam-making) --poam acknowledging-- is part of my responsibility as a human being.

Thanks for the Nye poem; I'll pass it on to the 240 network in a post.

Posted by: thyliasm at November 5, 2007 08:15 PM

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