like a raft

I often feel so inadequate every time I try to explain why I love poetry or why I carry poems with me all the time. And last night, after a truly inspiring reading by Jeanette Winterson and how she said that it was language that kept her from falling apart, I can only nod and say, yes.

So many times in my life when I feel sad or overwhelmed by loss, and even as I walk around my chest still feels so heavy, its always poetry that I come back to, over and over. The poems that I've memorized, they know my story, shared all of my pain.

In the same way that Naomi Shihab Nye wrote this poem for Edna St. Vincent Millay. Especially the part about poems being portable, something that you can hold on to, like a raft.

You Know Who You Are

Why do your poems comfort me, I ask myself.
Because they are upright, like straight-backed chairs.
I can sit in them and study the world as if it too
were simple and upright.

Because sometimes I live in a hurricane of words
and not one of them can save me.
Your poems come in like a raft, logs tied together,
they float.
I want to tell you about the afternoon
I floated on your poems
all the way from Durango Street to Broadway.

Fathers were paddling on the river with their small sons.
Three Mexican boys chased each other outside the library.
Everyone seemed to have some task, some occupation,
while I wandered uselessly in the streets I claim to love.

Suddenly I felt the precise body of your poems beneath me,
like a raft, I felt words as something portable again,
a cup, a newspaper, a pin.
everything happening had a light around it,
not the light of Catholic miracles,
the blunt light of a Saturday afternoon.
light in a world that rushes forward with us or without us.
I wanted to stop and gather up the blocks behind me
in this light, but it doesn’t work.
You keep walking, lifting one foot, then the other,
saying “This is what I need to remember”
and then hoping you can.

--from Words Under the Words (1994) by Naomi Shihab Nye


  1. wonderful.

    you've got me thinking of what keeps us from falling apart. a very poignant way of considering our passions or interests.