Of Onions and Scallions

October 28, 2012

Still life with onions

The Traveling Onion
by Naomi Shihab Nye

When I think  how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel
and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way the knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.

And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on the texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career.
For the sake of others,

by Billy Collins, from Horoscope for the Dead: Poems

Only a few weeks ago,
the drawings you would bring in
were drawings of a tower with a fairy princess

leaning out from a high turret,
a swirl of stars in the background,
and bright moons, distant planets with rings.

Then yesterday you brought in
a drawing of a scallion,
a single scallion on a sheet of white paper —

another crucial step
along the path of human development,
I thought to myself

as I admired the slender green stalk,
the white bulb, the little beard
of roots that you had pencilled in so carefully.

It’s more difficult than you’d think to paint an onion.  Here’s my third attempt, and I’m still not satisfied:

Watercolor sketch of three onions



Mailbox on Greenwood Ave N

“We’re all poets when we’re little.”
— Naomi Shihab Nye

Are you a poet who doesn’t know it?

Have you ever tried writing poetry?  I have to admit that I am defeated by it.  But when I watched poet Naomi Shihab Nye’s short, humorous video on Poetry Everywhere, I was reminded by how naturally young children speak poetically because their minds and perceptions are still fresh, not jaded by clichés.

In her introduction, Nye quotes the poet William Stafford. When people asked him, “When did you become a poet?” he would respond, “That’s not the right question…The question is, ‘When did you stop being a poet?’”  Nye then reads words she collected from the mouth of her young son, every one a poetic observation.  You can link to the Nye video here.

When thinking about writing poems, I find the following quote helpful: “. . . poetry is a form of attention, itself the consequence of attention.”  (Donald Revell, The Art of Attention: A Poet’s Eye)  I may not write poems, but I hope that my photos and watercolor sketches are poetry’s equivalents. They are the consequence of my attentiveness to the natural world.

“Whatever things I perceive with my entire man — those let me record — and it will be poetry.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Journals (September 2, 1851)

P.S.  What a resource Poetry Everywhere is!!  Here you can see and listen to poets read their poems, for example Robert Frost reading “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  I feel like a kid in a candy store at this website.  Enjoy!