All the Details Followed by Silence
For years, my friend cared for her father.
Delivered snug, knee-high socks,
tugged rug to artful angle on his floor.
She arranged his paintings,
refreshed the fruit
in his bowl.
They attended every
at the Majestic
because her father
loved showtunes so much.
He took a guest to each,
sometimes sharing a meal
before the trek downtown.
She called him
more than once a day.
And now they are both dead.
Even her husband
who was sick the whole time
yet assisted everybody,
All these people
who traded so much care
are dead. Their dog
is still living though,
sniffing old friends curiously
as if we each became
an unspoken language,
vaguely familiar but who?
Some invisible force girding
all our days.
A wave we count on
returning to shore
but with none of them
here anymore, where is it?
Could this be the mystery we feel
just before dawn,
breath of wings
rising from ancient cypress,
a crane called into the air?
The teacher who sends her tiny students
to the front of the room, saying,
You will speak without mumbling,
and never swallow the end of a line,
believes in you
before you do.
Calmly she sits, hands folded,
golden bracelets glistening with light from the window
which falls exactly onto the middle of her desk.
As she will dwell forever in the middle
of your mind, listening
for a lifetime.
There might be a stage and you could stand on it.
Really? Corners of bookstores,
basements of libraries. Someone might come to listen.
Really? Someone believed you could.
We didn’t want much.
A circle of people unlike one another
with similar quietudes,
smiling around questions.
After such evenings
it was hard to sleep. The lamps
along the hallways of old hotels
kept throbbing yellow,
on your closed eyes,
worrying you awake,
maybe there would have been
something better to say.
Finally, we went to our friend’s lighthouse.
Slept in a perfect gray-shingled house at the foot of the lighthouse.
The children kept climbing to the top of the lighthouse,
but I was happy at the bottom
waving up at them. They said they could see forever.
Fishing boats glided past on the channel,
the pirate tourist ship and party barges would come later, all passing
at a distance. At the lighthouse we felt safe, never locked
a door, crabs dozing under the stairs, soft air lifting us
from silvery dawn, we had many days coming.
How could we be better people after knowing the lighthouse,
casting out calm reassurance the way it did, hoping for the best,
letting others know they might find their ways, staying rooted by
the ever-changing shore? For years it wasn’t lit. No one could find
a certain lens. It was a quest. And now, every evening at sundown,
the strong golden light comes on automatically, long beam reaching
out across sand and rocks and your future and mine.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye’s most recent books are The Turtle of Michigan and Everything Comes Next, Collected & New Poems, both from Greenwillow/HarperCollins. She is on faculty at Texas State University.
Still images from Drunken Angel (醉いどれ天使, Yoidore Tenshi), a 1948 film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It is notable for being the first of sixteen film collaborations between director Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune.