“Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

I fell in love with this poem the first time I heard it.

I am terrified of being famous.

I don’t know if you know that about me. I am constantly grappling with the side of me that wants to be accomplished and impactful, but without any of the attention that comes with it. All I can think of when I see famous people is how exposed and vulnerable they must feel. Because they’re in the public space, people are allowed to have opinions about them and be cruel to them. It seems miserable to me.

But this poem isn’t talking about fame in the superstar sense. It tells me to remember my relationship with the people around me and how impactful we can be to their lives. If I sought to make these tiny moments—interactions to strangers, performing my habits, or how I work—then I would be happy. I like the idea of always performing our best selves, whether to our friends or the people we pass by.

If I had to write one…

The nail is famous to the frame.

The space between what she intended
and what she did is famous to the artist,
But not to the audience, who loved it anyway.

The view is famous to the one that looks up,
among the crowd hunched over.

The glance is famous, forever, to the smitten.

The hope you are wishing for
is famous to the moment it happens.

The bus is famous to the visitor,
more famous than to the local,
it becomes famous only when it’s late.

The dishes left in the sink is famous to the roommate,
just not the one who used them. 

I want to be famous to kept memories 
of people I’ve met in my life,
to the man in the nice sweater,
famous as the moon to the one who stayed awake.

I want to be famous in the way a pedal is famous,
or a toothbrush, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Your Turn: