I don't know if I could ever choose my favorite poem of all time. There are too many. Some poems were my favorites duriing childhood like " Land of Counterpane", and "Little Orphan Annie". Why? I remember my mother reading them to me. When I drew an illustration in sixth grade to go with "Barefoot Boy" I knew that poem would always stay with me. I still have the colored drawing and the poem copied in my neat cursive. How could I forget it?
I went through my Rod McKuen phase. I learned much from Poe. I discovered Judith Viorst's witty adult poems while finding poems students might like. I memorized "Oh Captain, My Captain." I collected humorous poems to entertain my students. I grew to appreciate cowboy poetry. I will always love Jane Kenyon and Mary Oliver.
When I reflect on poems that I return to often, "Kindness" is one of them. I had the privledge of hearing Naomi Shihab Nye read poetry in person as she paid tribute to another of my favorite poets, William Stafford at an English teacher conference shortly after his death.
I always searched out Nye's poems after that. My brother also chose this poem for one of our blog Sibling Assignments a few years ago. You can find his comments on the poem here. I don't think this poem really found me until I experienced much loss in my life. He reminded me that loss can be a good thing.
Now please share with me, what is your favorite poem and why?
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.
—Naomi Shihab Nye