Monday, February 11, 2013

Cynthia Brandon Slocum on Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Someone I Love”

When someone asks if I have an example of a short narrative, I say yes.

When a friend calls to see if I can suggest a lyric essay for his class, I say yes.

When a colleague wanders into my office, leaning against the door frame, and asks if I have an example of an essay that “on the surface, is about something not so significant, you know?” I say yes.

When someone asks for a science essay, a 9/11 essay, a memoir, a meditation, a tribute, a poem—a whatever, I don’t care what they’re asking for, I give them the same one every time even if it’s nothing like what they want—I give them Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Someone I Love.”   

Fate brought me to Nye’s two-page essay about her mowed-over garden. I read her first line in Marquette, Michigan out of an old issue of Water ~ Stone Review. 

 “Someone I love so much cut down my primrose patch.”  

Say it out loud: primrose patch.  

My husband was out for a run that day, and as I read—devoted from that first line—I grew concerned that he’d return while I was reading, or even worse, he’d walk in as I reached the last line and I’d have to give him the just-a-minute finger, but it would be too late. I’d already be out of the garden, and her listing rhythm, her forceful momentum, would have been ruined by the sound of sneakers on old linoleum. I’d have to start over.

 “Someone I love so much cut down my primrose patch.”

But he didn’t come home until it was over, until after I had sat, staring in shock, for several minutes. And now, to return fate’s favor, I share it with everyone, especially strangers, especially friends, especially my unsuspecting, uninterested composition students, especially when it isn’t relevant. I put it in mailboxes in the English department, into envelopes to Tulsa, into my purse for parties—what’s that, did someone say they wanted to hear an essay read aloud?

That is the best way to experience Nye: out loud, in front of your houseplants, in front of your friends, in front of crowds, in front of freshmen, reciting her singing lists of plant names, her botanical musings, her labyrinthine sentences, until you’re out of breath, until you’re tearing up, again, for the twentieth time, until you end with that killer last line of hers and the shaggy haired student in the back, the one with the half-open eyes who hasn’t said anything all semester except for “wait, what are we doing?” looks up from his impressive notebook graffiti and offers up a totally sincere “whoa.”

Uh, yeah.

It’s hard not to react to this singing combination of loss and love and anger and plants and plants and plants. Sure I want slow, thoughtful realizations and long, developed metaphors, but sometimes, maybe most times, I just want someone to quickly, unexpectedly, rip my heart out—you know, just a little.


  1. And now... I must find this. Thank you.

  2. Came across this while browing the web...I just wanna say that I really enjoyed you and your class this semester at ARCC!!

    Rachel M.