Love the one/s you’re with (if you can’t be, etc)

As number nine of eleven children, I grew up with big gatherings at the dinner table every night. Come Thanksgiving there’d be even more people and it was great—boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, strays, and one memorable Thanksgiving, four basketball players from my brother’s college team who couldn’t go home because of their practice schedule. Much to the amusement of us little kids, those tall fellows got drunk, sang songs, and told my sister they loved her French perfume. She wasn’t wearing any.

This Thanksgiving for the first time ever, I’ll be sitting down to a small table, just four of us—my husband and me and two of our four kids. No strays, no extras. Across a few states, extended families on both sides will be gathering in great heaps.

I was feeling a wee sorry for myself, but then I found out that one of my sisters has Covid and will miss everything. She’ll get a Thanksgiving meal, courtesy of another sister, but she won’t be sitting down with her children, grandchildren, siblings or in-laws as she had looked forward to doing.

Kind of took the strings off my tiny violin. Looking further afield, I am reminded by her situation of how many would be happy to share a holiday meal with even a single other person. How many would be happy to have children to pass rolls to, how many would be happy to have parents to say a blessing. How many would be happy to have a friend invite them over for dessert.

So this Thanksgiving I’m thinking about who sits at the table and who doesn’t. I selected poems for those with full houses and half-empty ones. And of course I’ve included one for folks who are alone. (Actually it’s a poem for everyone, especially those feeling dried-up in the gratitude department.)

I taped Lydia Marie Child’s “Over the river and through the wood” to a tree on a little road that winds through the woods.

poem is on skinny tree, left-hand side

Thanksgiving Day [“Over the river and through the wood”]
by Lydia Marie Child

Over the river and through the wood,
To grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river and through the wood–
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes
And bites the nose,
As over the ground we go.

Over the river and through the wood,
To have first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring,
“Ting-a-ling-ding!”
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river and through the wood,
And straight through the barn-yard gate.
We seem to go
Extremely slow–
It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the wood–
Now grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun!
Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!


Here’s the iconic Thanksgiving multi-generational gathering with all the trappings: sleigh, snow, pudding, pie, grandma in her cap, and best of all, a child’s anticipation. Give this old tune a little sing, it’s fun.
*

“First Thanksgiving” by Sharon Olds details the bittersweet return of college kids to the nest they’ve flown away from. I left it on a dock post at a marina. All those empty slips waiting for boats to be moored was a metaphor just primed for this poem.

poem is on the #12 post

First Thanksgiving
by Sharon Olds

When she comes back, from college, I will see
the skin of her upper arms, cool,
matte, glossy. She will hug me, my old
soupy chest against her breasts,
I will smell her hair! She will sleep in this apartment,
her sleep like an untamed, good object,
like a soul in a body. She came into my life the
second great arrival, after him, fresh
from the other world—which lay, from within him,
within me. Those nights, I fed her to sleep,
week after week, the moon rising,
and setting, and waxing—whirling, over the months,
in a slow blur, around our planet.
Now she doesn’t need love like that, she has
had it. She will walk in glowing, we will talk,
and then, when she’s fast asleep, I’ll exult
to have her in that room again,
behind that door! As a child, I caught
bees, by the wings, and held them, some seconds,
looked into their wild faces,
listened to them sing, then tossed them back
into the air—I remember the moment the
arc of my toss swerved, and they entered
the corrected curve of their departure.


The final image, a bee held by its wings, is absolutely amazing. Re-read that haunting last line: “they entered/the corrected curve of their departure.” Wow. I’ll be thinking of that come Friday morning when I kiss my son and daughter goodbye.

*

Marjorie Saiser’s “Thanksgiving for Two” feels like a poem written just for me this year.  The empty (ish) table calls up the past and forecasts the future. It’s a little sad, no way around it, but sweet too. I set it atop frozen turkey breasts in the grocery store, which I figured is the kind of turkey people buy who don’t need much of it.

Thanksgiving for Two
by Marjorie Saiser

The adults we call our children will not be arriving
with their children in tow for Thanksgiving.
We must make our feast ourselves,

slice our half-ham, indulge, fill our plates,
potatoes and green beans
carried to our table near the window.

We are the feast, plenty of years,
arguments. I’m thinking the whole bundle of it
rolls out like a white tablecloth. We wanted

to be good company for one another.
Little did we know that first picnic
how this would go. Your hair was thick,

mine long and easy; we climbed a bluff
to look over a storybook plain. We chose
our spot as high as we could, to see

the river and the checkerboard fields.
What we didn’t see was this day, in
our pajamas if we want to,

wrinkled hands strong, wine
in juice glasses, toasting
whatever’s next,

the decades of side-by-side,
our great good luck.

Our great good luck! Amen, sister Saiser.
*

Finally, for those sitting alone watching dust collect on the china cabinet, here’s Marilyn Nelson’s “Dusting.” She’ll have you up off your chair, cleaning with purpose. But it’s also a great addition to anyone’s litany of Thanksgiving blessings. Nelson ushers us into a wondrous invisible world teeming with life and beauty. Post pandemic I doubt there’s many who will give thanks for pearl-necklace viruses, but Nelson makes it sound so gorgeous you’d be tempted.

I left “Dusting” in the cleaning aisle, the only aisle in the grocery store that wasn’t packed with shoppers.

poem is leaning against Swiffer box, 3rd shelf from bottom

Dusting
by Marilyn Nelson

Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
pearl-necklace viruses,
winged protozoans:
for the infinite,
intricate shapes
of submicroscopic
living things.

For algae spores
and fungus spores,
bonded by vital
mutual genetic cooperation,
spreading their
inseparable lives
from equator to pole.

My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.

We aren’t alone, Nelson tell us. We’re surrounded at all times by submicroscopic/living things to which we are bonded by vital/mutual genetic cooperation.

And so I to you. And so you to every other sub-, micro- and macroscopic being on the planet. We are inseparable. All glory to God for that.
*

If you’ve stuck with the post this far, let me tell you how grateful I am for your readership and your support. You keep me going on this enterprise. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

14 Comments

  1. Patricia Rawlings

    The bee image gave me chills…I read it over and over and over and it was brand-new each time…thank you Maggie and Sharon for that. I wish you and yours a good day tomorrow…there will be many empty chairs this year–Covid–gun violence–etc. We can’t help everyone but we can help the one we’re with.

  2. MaryJo

    The bee image is stunning. I’m with you Patricia. Thank you, Maggie, for all these wonderful posts. They always bring a sigh, a smile, a laugh out loud or a time of reflection. Your blog is full of life and it brings that to the reader.

  3. Colleen Nagle

    Thank you Maggie. I can relate! We have 0 kids coming home this year.One daughter group texted her sibs and me saying “Dad dramatically told me this is his first time in 31 years he wouldn’t have at least one of the kids home for Thanksgiving” He’s really feeling it. I might share a couple of these with him and see if it helps him cope… Happy Thanksgiving to all of the Lanes!!!

  4. mrtbritten

    Maggie, I love all the poems you post. I forget how much I love poetry until I see it again. Alas, the world as it is today. with all the horrors highlighted, encourages us to forget the beauty and the wonder, WE NEED MORE POETS>

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