For years I’ve written haikus for people I don’t know. They send me a photo of someone and a few words about that person, along with $30, and I conjure up something about the person looking back at me from the photo. This takes some time. I want to get to something essential, something of this human being’s heart and soul. No one has ever sent me a photo of someone they don’t love dearly, and I respect that love and want the haiku to reflect it. Once it’s finished, I hand-letter the haiku on a piece of card stock and mail it back. All the proceeds go to support a school I’m involved with in Haiti. The photo/haiku/school forms an invisible triangle: 1) Me at my wooden desk gazing at 2) a photo of someone I don’t know in support of 3) both the sender and students, none of whom I’ve met in real life. You can’t order a poem like you order a taco, except sometimes you can. Poems are everywhere. Like the wondrous Ms. Nye says, what we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them.
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 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 off sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.
For more information on Naomi Shihab Nye, please click here.