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Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

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.

 

poem is on the rail in foreground

 

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.

poem is on top of small table

 

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.

 

 

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I taped Lucille Clifton’s “The Lesson of the Falling Leaves” to a small tree in a park in Detroit.

poem is on skinny tree in foreground

 

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.

 

 

 

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No sensible person is ever going to clamor to be cursed, but curses aren’t always to be avoided. For one thing, when done well, they’re fun. Like their snarling cousin the insult, curses are great vehicles for verbal gymnastics and flights of fancy. I could even make a case for curses to be a great. . . wait for it. . . precursor to Thanksgiving. Curses remind us how much we don’t want to lose what we hold dear. If you didn’t especially enjoy being human, you wouldn’t care if a witch cursed you to be an ogre at night. That’s a silly example, of course, but read on and you’ll see what I mean.

 

I left two curse poems at a “sewer overflow drainage project” which also had pretty nature trails. Nasty and nice together, a fitting home for curses and the blessings they imply.

 

poem is on the rock

 

Curses

 

May the wind put out everything for you

except the candle on your grave.

 

May you not run away from the ax,

or the cannon.

 

May you not have fish in Fishville,

a bull in Bullsville,

not a single sheep in Sheepsville.

 

May you be afraid to meet your brother

without a knife.

 

May you move from your house to the cemetery.

 

May you find neither a root nor a leaf.

 

May you stir with a right hand

the soup made with the left hand.

 

2

 

May you buy a hat

and have nothing to put it on.

 

May your wife knead dust,

rain’s bread dough.

 

May your hair give you the slip,

your flesh too.

 

May you raise in vain your chin

above the flood.

 

May you breathe only as much

as your suffering requires.

 

3

 

May a man in armor await you

wherever you go.

 

May he ride into your wheat,

into your bed,

into your church.

 

May your kin rise against you.

 

All hounds on your trail!

All evils on what you hold dear!

 

May evil not touch you

until you raise your knife.

 

4

If in a stranger’s eye

you didn’t put the sun out.

 

If in the hour of the wolf

you didn’t call out like a wolf.

 

May sun shine for you out of the wind,

out of your brother,

and a fish in the brook,

the oak tree, the unexpected guest.

 

With wheat up to your wait

and clear sky spreading,

 

 

If you actually read this poem to the last comma, you’re wondering if the poem ends like this, suddenly and without resolution, or if I’ve been careless. Unfortunately, it’s the latter. I do not know what happens at the end of this poem. I don’t even know who wrote it (although I suspect Charles Simic). Somehow I neglected to photocopy the third page, and now after I’ve had the poem on file for two years at least, I can’t even remember what anthology it’s from. The library, from where the anthology came, is closed because of COVID.

 

Sorry to leave you hanging. But there’s enough here to enjoy, and you can see where it’s going. Curses are piled upon curses, all with a medieval flavor—armored men, kin rising up, the ax, cannon, the wolf, all hounds, all evils—and many with an element of humor, which is why I think it may be a Simic poem. My favorite curse—

 

May you buy a hat

and have nothing to put it on.

 

Then in part four, or what we have of part four, the speaker undoes the wished-for misfortune. Presumably if all the conditions are met—if the person addressed behaves decently to strangers and tames his animal aggression—he’ll be blessed with good weather, enough food to eat, and good times in general.

 

But for all I know, the actual ending could turn again. Please, people, help me track down this poem!

 

*

 

Poet Nick Flynn’s curse is more a story of a curse rather than a curse proclaimed by the speaker.

 

poem is on stone wall next to the door

 

Curse

by Nick Flynn

 

Let the willows drop their branches, heavy with ice,

let the sound be a whipcrack across the fields.

 

Let each tree be felled, let them dynamite the stumps.

 

From now on you will have to keep moving, from now on

you will carry everything you own.

 

You will sleep beneath a payphone, dream of a room, a field.

 

Let the field burn clean, let your children beat the flames

with brooms.

 

You will feign sleep as the conductor passes.

 

The names of your children will break up in your mind.

 

Let the stones jam the plough, let the barn fall.

 

Let the paint leech into the well.

 

 

There’s no humor here, just a deep well of bitterness and anger. Someone’s life is being utterly and systematically destroyed. First his home, then his family, then his mind. Forced to wander, he bears the mark of Cain—

 

From now on you will have to keep moving, from now on

            you will carry everything you own.

 

You wonder what this man or woman has done to deserve such a fate. Maybe nothing. Maybe “Curse” is a description of dementia, which is indeed one of the worst of curses. This line—

 

The names of your children will break up in your mind

 

—sounds like a common woe of families with a demented parent.

 

The poem’s field blasted of its tree stumps could be the destruction of memories. No one’s able to stop the destruction (the children uselessly beat flames with brooms), and the cursed person is left to live solely from moment to moment. The past is gone forever, and the future looks pretty bad.

 

If the dementia-conceit holds, here’s the kicker, a description of the horror of a disintegrating brain:

 

Let the stones jam the plough, let the barn fall.

 

Let the paint leech into the well.

 

And suddenly I am thanking God for a working brain.

 

*

 

Here’s a bio of Nick Flynn from a previous post:

 

Nick Flynn was born in Massachusetts in 1960. He was raised by a single mother who committed suicide when he was a young adult. His father was an alcoholic who fancied himself a writer and went to prison for writing forged checks. While in prison, his father wrote him letters full of advice, but Flynn never wrote back out of respect for his mother. After high school, Flynn became an electrician.

 

Two years after his mother died, he started working at a homeless shelter in Boston. Flynn met his father at that same homeless shelter when his troubled father came to spend the night. Their reunion was the subject of a memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which was turned into a movie, Being Flynn. The move starred Paul Dano as a young Flynn and Robert DeNiro as his father.

 

In addition to his poetry, Flynn is a widely published essayist and memoirist. He’s married to actress Lili Taylor with whom he has a daughter. Flynn lives in Brooklyn and teaches creative writing at University of Houston.

 

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This past week I’ve heard stories of people not going home for Thanksgiving because they’re upset their relatives voted differently than they did.

no pissing match on Thanksgiving

no pissing match on Thanksgiving!

 

Add one more to the list of disheartening effects the 2016 election has had on our country. Thanksgiving is the holiday that’s supposed to bring us together. Thanksgiving is a holiday all Americans share regardless of faith, political beliefs, or economic status, a holiday only Mr. MacGoo might object to. It also happens to be my favorite one.

 

I hate to think of people alone and angry this day, nursing grudges or avoiding toxic situations.

 

So this Thanksgiving poem-elfing is for the divided dinner table. For the arguments narrowly avoided and the arguments that’ll erupt over the fifth bottle of wine. For old hurts and fresh injuries passed around with the potatoes, for the comments swallowed and the ones blurted out, for tongues bit and tongues wagged. But most of all for the love and gratitude that bring a group of people together to sit shoulder-to-shoulder and share food. This poem-elfing is for bridges over our divides and reinforcements for our connections.

 

And if you’re a family that sees eye-to-eye on all issues, all I can say is, Welcome to Planet Earth! Golly gee, alien life forms among us!

 

On to the elfing. I went to Costco and found it surprisingly easy, even among the hoards of shoppers, to leave poems in food displays with no one noticing.

 

I started with a wine glass where I left a quote, not a poem, by Rosseau.

poem is inside 2nd or 3rd glass

poem is inside 2nd or 3rd glass

 

It’s a favorite of mine I may have quoted once or twice here in the past. I never tire of mulling this one over. Write it on your hand and read before opening your mouth.

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My least favorite part of Thanksgiving is chopping onions. My eyes, like my nerves, are overly sensitive. So into the onion bin I put Mary Oliver’s brief “Uses of Sorrow.”

poem is on onion baton left-hand side

poem is on onion bag on left-hand side

 

It may takes me years to understand “this, too, was a gift.”

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A display of pecan pies was a good spot for “While We Were Arguing” by Jane Kenyon.

poem is on middle pecan pie

poem is on middle pecan pie ingredient list

 

“’You see, we have done harm,’” she writes. Words to remember before you sit down for dinner.

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Jane Kenyon also wrote what I consider the most perfect Thanksgiving poem. It’s called “Otherwise” and I balanced it on a turkey.

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poem is on middle turkey

 

Gratitude takes perspective, and there’s no perspective as good as this: It might have been/ otherwise.

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A wine called “Seven Deadly Zins” was tailor-made for an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

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Here’s the perfect response to any argument. Memorize it—it’s the very reason people can’t be reduced to who they voted for.

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In my Costco shopping loop, I reached the flowers last, which is where I put Anne Porter’s “Looking at the Sky.” Another beautiful Thanksgiving poem.

image

 

I shall never have enough time, she writes. Praise and gratitude for the whatever you have.

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am grateful for all of you, for your insightful comments and continued support for this project.

 

Bonus: if you need some music to dance to while you’re cooking, here’s a song I heard this morning, courtesy of DJ Blizzard Lizzard: Rock a Side Pony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If I had any sense I’d be in the kitchen right now, chopping and endlessly washing mixing bowls and spatulas. Instead I’m sitting at the computer. I’ll pay for it tomorrow with panic and exhaustion, but meantime, here’s a few poems for Thanksgiving.

 

At the grocery store I left Czeslaw Milosz’s”Encounter” in an empty aisle  where I would encounter no one, next to one of Paul Newman’s products.

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O my love, where are they, where are they going–  sounds like a lovelier version of what my husband and I say to each other after the too-quickly-grown-up kids leave home after the weekend.

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(The words that got cut off in the picture are “at dawn.” Sorry for that.)

 

Outside another grocery store (because one grocery store is never enough for Thanksgiving preparations), I left e.e. cummings’ poem in an abandoned grocery cart. Maybe it was mine. (Poem is to the right of the “Ayar” ad, on the seat of the grocery cart.)

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i thank You God for most this amazing/day could be the start of dinner time grace. Little kids might like the twisty-ness of the lines.

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Still at the grocery store, I put Emily Dickinson’s “I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose” by a credit card machine at the check-out.

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I’ve long had a few lines of this poem committed to memory

I’ll tell you how the sun rose,–

A Ribbon at a time–

 

and this, one of my favorite images from any poem, ever

The Hills untied their Bonnets–

 

The beauty of that, when I see it and when I read it here, fills me with gratitude for the world as it is and the world as only a poet can see it.

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Finally, I left Wislawa Szymborska’s “Vietnam” at Starbucks. Where I was sitting for over an hour, once again not cooking.

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What does the agony in “Vietnam” have to do with Thanksgiving? It’s a reminder. As we gather with family and friends to enjoy a bounty of food and the comfort of safe shelter, let’s remember those who have none of those things. Let’s give our thanks for what we have and leave space in our hearts for victims of war, for refugees losing hope–

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And in the last few minutes before I give myself over to cooking, let me thank all you dear readers and commentators. I am so grateful for your readership and support.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving, the kids come home and I rejoice because at last I can delegate again.

Delegation, one of the perks of parenthood.

Delegation, how the napkins get ironed, wood hauled, dishwasher emptied, onions sliced, chairs moved, table set, chaos ordered.

Delegation, essential to any host whose hands are covered in butter and turkey bacteria.

And a boon to a Poem Elf who doesn’t have time to for elfing.

So here’s the work of my elf-ette, Anne Marie, who was sent forth with a grocery list, camera and poem fragment.

poem is on left-hand side of top-tier table

poem is on left-hand side of top-tier table

 

The fragment is the last few lines from Adam Zagajewski’s “Try to Praise the Mutilated World.”

IMG_2225

 

Here’s the whole poem if you’re interested:

 

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

And while thanks are being considered and passed along, I want to thank you for reading this blog.

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A short break from the cooking frenzy in my kitchen to complain and give thanks.

 

My complaint is with food manufacturers.  Every year more food items seem to be downsized.  What was 16 oz. is now 14 oz.  Besides feeling irritated at having to pay more for less, I’m wondering what’s going to happen to all the old recipes.  Do the makers of Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing even realize that they’re messing with “edible archeology”?  (Edible archeology is what novelist J.L. Carr calls meals made from recipes handed down generation to generation.)

 

Moving on to gratitude, a poem:

 

Thanks

by W.S. Merwin

 

Listen

with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky

and say thank you

we are standing by the water thanking it

smiling by the windows looking out

in our directions

 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

 

over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the door

and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks we are saying thank you

in the faces of the officials and the rich

and of all who will never change

we go on saying thank you thank you

 

with the animals dying around us

our lost feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving

dark though it is

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

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A few weeks ago in a post on Parrot and Olivier in America, I mentioned my childhood friend Pippi from Australia.  Calling her up from memory prompted me to track her down on Facebook.  Say what you will about the time-wasting, social-chastening, death-hastening, life-sucking, mind-flucking (not a much of a cusser here) nature of Facebook, it allowed me to reconnect to a person who would otherwise forever be considered a figment of my imagination by my husband.

Anyway, for reasons unknown, this morning I woke up thinking about Pippi’s mother.  Mothers of our childhood friends have staying power.  Often they are our first introduction to the idea that people don’t all live the same.  I can’t remember what Mrs. Woodger looked like, her physical presence eludes me, but I do remember and will always remember, two things she said.

"Sausies," she called them

The Woodgers rented the house across the street.  One time they invited our family over for dinner.  Mrs. Woodger served big fat grilled sausages, which amazed us, because sausages were not on our dinner menu.  We crowded in their dining room, elbow to elbow, and as we sat, someone came to join us, perhaps my brother Charlie.  Mrs. Woodger made a place for him, saying cheerfully, “There’s always room for one more boy!”

I love that.  Always room for one more boy/girl/human being.  It’s so welcoming, and just the spirit for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  Table settings and napkin counts be darned.  Who cares if there’s only 16 water goblets and a pint of gravy:  There’s always room for one more boy! And if you’re certain you have enough friends and don’t need more or think your social circle is set and your heart full enough, let Mrs. Woodger come to you in spirit, woo hoo, woo hoo, and say:  There’s always room for one more boy.

The other phrase of hers is less profound but just as sweet to remember.  Whenever one of her daughters. . . uh-oh . . . now my memory is kicking in and I’m realizing that I’ve confused Mrs. Woodger with Mrs. Mudie.  Mrs. Mudie, also Australian, mother of Annette, Lindell and Genelle (my memory is really working now!) moved into the Woodger house when the Woodgers moved back home.  Anyway, whenever one of Mrs. Mudie’s daughters got a splinter, she’d apply the tweezers and say, “Out, foul jelly!”

King Lear, not Mrs. Mudie

Out, foul jelly is a mildly corrupted version of a line from Shakespeare’s King Lear.  When Cornwall puts out Gloucester’s remaining eyeball, he says, “Out, vile jelly!”

Out, vile jelly!  Out, foul jelly!  Either way it’s very fun to say out loud with an Australian accent.

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