Mar. 29, 2007

The Art of Disappearing

by Naomi Shihab Nye

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Poem: "The Art of Disappearing" by Naomi Shihab Nye from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. © The Eighth Mountain Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don't I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It's not that you don't love them anymore.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven't seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don't start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the memoirist Alexandra Fuller, (books by this author) born in Glossop, England (1969). Her memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight was a big success when it came out in (2002). It's the story of her childhood, growing up in what was then the African country of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Her parents were white settlers in Rhodesia, trying to make a living as tobacco and cattle farmers, and they were trying to do this as a civil war was being fought between the white government and the black nationalist rebels. Whenever the family left the house, they always traveled in groups, and they had to keep a lookout for mines and booby traps, as well as scorpions, snakes, and crocodiles. By the time she was seven years old, Alexandra Fuller had learned to strip, clean, load, and fire a machine gun. Her parents warned her never to sneak into their room at night, because they might shoot her by accident.

It's the birthday of Eric Idle, (books by this author) born in South Shields, Durham, England (1943). He's one of the six founding members of the British comedy group Monty Python. Idle often played old ornery women, as well as creepy old men and annoying talk show hosts. He has written several books for children and adults, as well as a play, Pass the Butler. His first novel, Hello Sailor, came out in 1974, and his second, The Road to Mars, in 1999.

It's the birthday of actor, director, producer, and playwright Howard Lindsay, born Herman Nelke in Waterford, New York (1889). He worked for years with the playwright Russel Crouse, and together they wrote several hit plays, including The Sound of Music (1959), Mr. President (1962), and State of the Union, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1946. Lindsay and Crouse's biggest hit was Life With Father (1939), which ran for 3,224 performances over seven years, the longest-running non-musical play in the history of Broadway.

Howard Lindsay said, "Every so often, we pass laws repealing human nature."

It's the birthday of politician Eugene (Joseph) McCarthy, (books by this author) born in Watkins, Minnesota (1921). He was a U.S. Senator and challenged Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination in 1968, before Johnson chose to drop out of the race. He also wrote several books about politics in America, as well as many collections of poetry, including Ground Fog and Night (1979) and Other Things and the Aardvark (1970). He died on December 10, 2005.

Eugene McCarthy said, "Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important."

On this day in 1886, John Pemberton perfected a headache and hangover remedy he had cooked up over a fire in his backyard. It contained coca leaves and extract of kola nut, and he advertised it as an "Esteemed Brain Tonic and Intellectual Beverage." He had been making something called "Pemberton's French Wine Coca," but Atlanta had just passed a prohibition law, and he had to come up with an alcohol-free formula. He sweetened the new elixir with sugar instead of wine, and his bookkeeper suggested he name the beverage "Coca-Cola." The following year, the prohibition law was repealed; and Pemberton decided Coca-Cola was a losing proposition. He sold off his interest in the formula and went back to making French Wine Coca.

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