Monday

Jul. 23, 2007

Kindness

by Naomi Shihab Nye

MONDAY, 23 JULY, 2007
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Poem: "Kindness" by Naomi Shihab Nye, from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. © Eighth Mountain Press, 1995. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of crime novelist Raymond Chandler (books by this author), born in Chicago, Illinois (1888). He's known for his novels about the private detective Philip Marlowe such as The Big Sleep (1939) and The Long Goodbye (1954). He started out writing second-rate poetry and essays, but couldn't get much published, so he gave up and took a bookkeeping class, got a job at a bank, and went on to become a wealthy oil company executive.

He lost his job when the stock market crashed in 1929. So at the age of 45 he began writing for pulp fiction magazines, which paid about a penny a word.

Chandler was one of the first detective novelists to become known for the quality of his prose, and he became famous for his metaphors. In one novel he wrote, "She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looked by moonlight." In another he wrote, "She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket."


It's the birthday of the novelist Vikram Chandra (books by this author), born in New Delhi (1961). He's gotten a lot of attention recently for a 900-page crime novel called Sacred Games, which came out this past January (2007). It's about a police detective and a crime boss in modern-day Mumbai, India (formerly Bombay).

Chandra said of Mumbai, "It's an overwhelming city ... 18 million people packed into a very small place. ... When you're away from it, you can miss it, physically you can ache for it — even for the stink of it."


It's the birthday of John Treadwell Nichols (books by this author), born in Berkeley, California (1940). After traveling in Central America and moving to New Mexico, he decided that he had to write a political novel about the lives of Latin American people. He worked on seven novels that never saw the light of day, and then finally came out with The Milagro Beanfield War (1974), about a poor man who diverts water from an irrigation canal so that he can raise beans to support his family. It was a great success, and Robert Redford made it into a movie.


It's the birthday of investigative reporter Nicholas Gage (books by this author), born in the mountain village of Lia, Greece (1939). His mother was tortured and killed by communist guerillas when he was eight years old. He moved to the United States and became a reporter, and after years of writing about corrupt politicians, crooked judges, drug dealers, and Mafia bosses, he finally decided to write a book about his mother's murder. The result was his book Eleni (1983), which became a best-seller and a movie.


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