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Too Important to Forget

painting by Kimberly Brooks

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 telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say Why?

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

This poem came to me via the wonderful little chapbook by Roger Housden, "Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime." He has this to say about Nye's poem - I find the strong and sober stand of this poem a welcome inspiration. Yet I know there are those who feel otherwise. People have told me they feel it to be ungenerous and curmudgeonly in its attitude to others. On the other hand, I remember seeing Bill Moyers on PBS one evening, and him saying that ever since being called into the hospital for heart trouble, he has kept a copy of this poem by Naoimi Shihab Nye in his top pocket. For me, it's that kind of poem. A reminder poem, a shake-your-tree poem, a wake-up-and-live-your-own-life-before-it's-all-too-late poem.

That will make you pause, won't it? Prioritize. Live by your deepest needs rather than the social calendar, the work schedule, the in-box. Housden calls a poem like this a "message from a trusted friend." The friend that is "the persistent murmur in our own chest." He adds this observation by Keats which I find the single greatest guide to poems that matter to me - "Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a Remembrance."

Indeed. Do you remember what you knew your life was for - that singular moment you crested from childhood into young adulthood, setting your sights on the world's horizon? Do you remember the truth felt on that hot August afternoon lying in the grass under the green willow branches, staring up and through an endless blue sky? Do you remember a sudden shiver holding a newborn? The still, veined hand of your grandmother as she held a tea cup and waited by the window? Nye's poem is a call back home - live your life, know life, life is finite.

I too carry this poem in my wallet. I like its honest fierceness. Nye doesn't mince words. I need that. Her words remind me it's not about social or family obligation, it isn't a denial of love, it is about what ever that "it" is that beats at the heart of this stanza -

You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bells at twilight.

So, I listen.

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