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.
~Naomi Shihab Nye “Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems


Detail from “Descent from the Cross” by Rogier van der Weyden



Here’s the truth of it:
I am the buttonhole lying in wait, hidden in the background – mere open space for locking in and securing the eye-catching button.
I’m neither decorative nor particularly noticeable yet chock-full of potential purpose even though empty.
A button without me is pure window-dressing, a flash in the pan, a bauble ready to loosen and fall off, easy to go missing.
Yet a button hole like me without a button to latch to is just plain and gaping and lonely and allows in drafts.
I never have forgotten what I’m meant to be and what I can do.  I only need the right button to fit me perfectly.

3 thoughts on “Buttonholed

  1. I had the good fortune to hear Naomi recite a few years back, and she began with comments on Wilkes-Barre’s squirrels. She’d arrived early and spent some time observing them on the river common across the street from the lecture hall at King’s College. Ever since, I’ve practiced the fine art of judging a new place by the health and energy of its squirrel population and this metric has never been wrong. A belated, thought heartfelt thanks to Naomi, and now to Barnstorming!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I never would have thought of judging a place by its squirrels! We had zero squirrels here for decades and then they arrived like a wave a few years ago. A big wave. and this year – hardly any again. Where the dickens did they wave to next?? Emily

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And I’ve never thought of squirrel migration. Hmm. I wonder if a wildfire or some other event drove them to your region temporarily. Curiouser and curiouser.


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