Thanksgiving is a good and necessary holiday but perhaps more so in times of want than of plenty. What is wanting this Thanksgiving 2020? We want to be together. We want our families, our friends. Most Thanksgiving celebrations are pared down this year with families separated by virus or politics, some permanently so, thanks to death on the one end and crazed partisanship on the other. So many want jobs, income, financial stability. So many want justice. So many want love. So many want what they had just nine months ago, however bad that was. The “wanting” list is endless; the plenty-side may seem shorter, anemic.
Thanksgiving is here to say, no, it isn’t. Good-and-plenty surrounds us. Bulking up the plenty list is a matter of observation, one that poets and priests (I included one) can help us with.
Let’s begin this annual Thanksgiving poem-blitz with the very Queen of Observation, Mary Oliver. I left “The Real Prayers Are Not the Words, but the Attention that Comes First” on the back of a park bench by a small pond.
Oliver watches the hawk like a hawk. To make such observations, she must sit still and quiet. And in sitting still and quiet, connection becomes possible. Wonder is possible. In moments of keen attention, the separate elements that make up the poem—the hunter, the prey, the wind, the grass, her mind that “sang out oh all that loose, blue rink of sky, where does it go to, and why?”—are all as one.
For an easier-to-read version of the poem, link here. (Unlike the Poetry Foundation version in the link, Oliver does not use line breaks in her published version, the one I used.)
I left Czeslaw Milosz’s “My-Ness” on a river walk in Detroit. You can see Canada across the water, so close and yet unreachable in these COVID times.
There’s an interesting play between the “my” and the “our” in the poem. Milosz’s sense of himself as an individual and himself as part of a human family coexist, inseparable:
And feel such sweetness, being here on earth,
One more moment, together here on earth,
To celebrate our little my-ness.
Joy Harjo’s “Perhaps the Worlds Ends Here” is an ode to the lowly kitchen table. I left the poem on an outdoor dining table in a popular, but now empty, restaurant in Detroit.
I share Harjo’s appreciation for the kitchen table. Fantastic how she elevates that humble piece of furniture, so often the realm of women, into a history-making force, and therefore worthy of our attention.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Link here for an online version.
Next up are two linked poems, one for children, one about children. I left both in an upscale grocery store.
The first is Thanksgiving Magic” by Rowena Bastin Bennett. I set it in front of some multi-colored cookies that I imagine only children would like. I hope a shopper pockets it for the little ones at home.
Let’s remember the magic-makers, our Thanksgiving cooks!
She takes leftover bread and muffin
And changes them to turkey stuffin’.
On the flip side of all that delicious gingerbread, stews, stuffings and pies is the empty table. Poet Anne Porter (a longtime favorite of mine) challenges herself to see the suffering of “A Famine Child.” I tucked the poem between two packages of fancy snack bars.
I wonder if the poem was written in the late 60’s during the Biafran famine. The images of starving children in Biafra shown on television were a first, and shocked viewers world over. Link here for famous photo of a Biafran boy.
Once in blue moon I’ll still hear people (older people) use the phrase, “like she’s from Biafra” to describe a very skinny person. It’s said comically, and it’s always jarring. Porter’s words, so simply put, pull us close to suffering such phraseology distances us from.
I taped Lucille Clifton’s “The Lesson of the Falling Leaves” to a small tree in a park in Detroit.
I love that last line, how it lands so sensibly after all the theology that precedes it. I love the theology too, and am still parsing out the meaning. I think I could spend a lifetime thinking about
such letting go is love
Finally, I left a prayer by Father John Morris on a stop sign at an intersection of a residential area in Detroit. This is an old favorite of mine. I keep it on view in my house, tucked into a kitchen cabinet. Maybe someone will take it into their home as well.
Even though this is a prayer, I think it opens its arms to everyone. Even non-believers can be grateful for
Every face I have seen,
Every voice I have heard
—and feel wonder and gratitude that—
In some mysterious way these
Have all fashioned my life
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am grateful for your readership, for your love of poetry, for your kind comments and big insights.