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where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

the kindness project

tagging the word “project” onto just about anything takes it up a notch. makes it sound more determined. not some sloppy mess off in the corner. and so it is that my firstborn and i seem to have stumbled onto a “project,” though he’s the chief engineer and i am merely its occasional scribe.

it was birthed–for me, anyway–in the bowels of manhattan, underground, in the glare of fluorescence that lights up the 23rd street subway station. we were dashing from the bone-trembling cold of madison square park where we’d just been soaking in the opening of hugh hayden’s “brier patch,” a sculptural installation of 100 school desks and tangled tree limbs that speaks, among many things, to educational disparities and injustices (and is just plain beautiful), and that was curated by the glorious woman my husband calls his one and only sister. despite the fact that each of my limbs could not stop shaking from the cold, i will never forget watching her–against the golden halo of the lamp light–as i thought of the mother, the father, and the grandmother who had so profoundly shaped her. tears were falling as i imagined them watching her there in the cold january night, a crowd assembled to listen to her every astute word, to witness her latest public art offering to the metropolis that is manhattan.

hugh hayden’s “brier patch” madison square park conservancy

but back to the kindness project. having scrambled to the bottom of the long flight of subway station stairs, i paused and took in the whole of the whirl of the thousands of lives momentarily all in the very same place at the very same time. i couldn’t help imagining the stories, the struggles, the sufferings, etched into the faces that ran past me, that leapt into train cars that whisked down the tunnels, disappearing into the darkness.

i felt the thrum of humanity at its most percussive pulse point. we were all in this together–whatever “this” is, whatever “this” brings us. and, at the moment, the world is a tough place to inhabit. reports come in from all corners: of wars on the brink, of political revenge, of ugly words rising in senate chambers (and uglier ones spilled in cloakrooms and hallways).

if kindness is antidote to madness, if there lies a paradigm beyond the worldly one of spite and retributions, one where the gospel of empathy reigns, where we’re guided by a command to love as we would be loved, maybe that’s where the healing begins. maybe that’s where we find our salvation. maybe it cloaks us against the cold, maybe it’s how we the people stand one slim chance of turning our backs on all that we find so wretched, so deeply unjust, so just plain vulgar.

maybe we get about the business of seeking living breathing moments of goodness. of nothing less than simple decency, looking out for the stranger, offering hope to the hopeless. maybe, if we pay enough attention, if we gather those moments of kindness like beads on a prayer string, we might begin to gather momentum, to put forth and build a force that just might put a dent in what some days feels like a tidal wave of the ugly.

more and more over the last stretch of years, i’ve found myself pulled deeper and deeper into the realm of the sacred Divine as the world around has gotten more and more vile. to hear the call of a voice eternal and True is to begin to drown out the shouts from the ugliest corners. it’s where and how i find my peace.

and it’s a project worth tallying. a count worth keeping.

and so, on that cold january night, there on the 4 train as it threaded through tunnels, the kindness project catalogued its first unmistakable display: a fellow hunched like a comma on his hard plastic train seat was muttering to himself, when he happened to glance up and i–hanging onto a subway car pole–happened to glance down. this, apparently, was enough to offend, so he let me have it, with a spew of expletives that grew increasingly incensed. at that very moment a woman whose accent gave away her caribbean roots, pointedly tapped hard against the metal subway-car door against which she leaned, and inched herself just enough to make safe harbor for me. with little more than the tap of her finger, and the insistence in her eyes, she’d signaled loud and clear that she was having nothing of the old man’s vitriol and she was keeping me from any harm. the moment passed, the animosity diffused, and i was washed over in the blessing of stranger caring for stranger. i nearly reached out to squeeze her by the arm, a wordless expression of infinite gratitude, but i refrained, not wanting my gesture to be mistaken for any form of crossing the line.

and for the next string of days, as my firstborn and i made our way through the winding lanes of lower lower manhattan, as we fell into joyful conversation with the checker at the grocery, or the lady behind the counter at the lamp repair shop, there grew the sense that we were onto something. new york, new york, is not known widely as the capital of nice, and yet it seems to brim with hardscrabble kindness. and it’s nothing short of miraculous, to find those glimmering shards of straight-up goodness––humanity at its best––among the art-deco towers and the deeply-shadowed corridors of capitalistic commerce.

my firstborn, blessed soul that he is, is all in on the project. called me last night to report his latest finds; in an uzbek barber, and an orthodox watch repairman, in the old wrinkled man behind the counter of a chinese general store, where he found himself invited for new year’s.

the plan is to keep watch, and keep note (tapped out on his phone, or inked into one of his many moleskin notebooks). in a city that never sleeps, in a city not known for tender loving plenitude, take census of kindness and allow its superpowers to alter the landscape.

it’s a mission i’m taking up here, in the heart of the heartland.

one by one, little by little, one act of golden good kindness at a time, we are building a fortress to keep out the ugly, the vile, the deeply unkind.

and, besides, it makes for a million fine yarns.

as i wrote in a note to my firstborn just this morning: “it seems one of our holy tasks is to see the sacred sparks all around, in the souls of kindness you are finding in watch repair shops and chinese general stores. keep at it. the work is never done.” 

would you care to join us? record your findings here.

the tall skinny tower with the beacon on top is home to the sweet boy i so dearly love…

i’m home from my blessed string of six days in new york, unpacking 89 boxes and making a nest for someone i dearly dearly love (my firstborn) on the 34th floor of a grand old art-deco tower at the bottom tip of manhattan. i miss both my boys madly (the other one is back at college), as i’m now home in the quietest of old houses, but i revel in knowing our home-grown law clerk has fallen instantly in love with the place he’s now calling home. while away, i got double whammies of awful bad news from two of my oldest dearest friends in the whole wide world, and i’d so welcome a prayer or two if you’ve a spare: one beloved friend found out she’s up against breast cancer (a second time), and another called to tell me her little sister’s cancer has crept to her brain. life sure is cruel. but as my friend with the very sick sister put it so starkly eloquently, “this is life, it’s full of suffering and ours to endure. our job is to do it with grace.”

in praise of eeyore

in all the annals of children’s literature, there deserves to be a shelf devoted to one gloomy donkey. eeyore is his name, a name derived from a phonetic spelling of the sound the farmyard friend is alleged to make. i say “alleged” because i cannot claim that i’ve leaned against a split-rail fence and listened in for just the way he hees and haws.

i write in praise of this misanthropic fellow, forlorn as the day is long, this chap who ambles through the hundred-acre wood tossing out lines wholly hollowed of all hope––for instance, “it’s not much of a tail, but i’m attached to it,” or, when someone pins a red balloon to where his tail went missing, he sighs, “sure is a cheerful color. guess i’ll have to get used to it”––because just yesterday i felt his every pain, and found myself cheered to be so deeply in his shadow.

ups and downs of EKG

it was an eeyore sort of day, and i was in an eeyore sort of slump (my best, best friend had three biopsies the day before, someone else was positive for covid, and i’ve not shaken the last of my own red-ringed devil although i’m due to board a plane to NYC tomorrow). and it made me think how fine a thing it was and is for a child to have an eeyore on the shelf, to feel some kinship when the world turns gloomy grey and a few good hours of slumping around in self-defined misery is not such a bad thing. it’s part of human nature. etched into the very dips and hollows of any old EKG, for starters. and it made me think that our gloomier angels deserve a moment’s appreciation. so here i am appreciating.

if not for grey, wouldn’t rosy raspberry be just another shade from the far side of the color wheel?

i’ve known souls who never seem to veer off the happy plane, and frankly they worry me. it simply cannot be a fact of nature that optimism is ever present. i like a little deviation in my moods. how on earth can you fully appreciate the good days, if you’ve not felt the uptick from down in the doldrums?

of course, i’m not rooting myself down where misery loves its company. like cloudy skies, it passes. and, after all, by day’s end at least a few of yesterday’s bumps had smoothed (the kid with positive covid PCR–a kid hunkered down in our basement just the night before–took another test and this one proved him negative; and this meant we didn’t need to seal our own college kid in a cellophane wrap, keep him home from college for an extra week, figure out just how to get him off to school without infecting every other passenger in sight).

all i’m saying is that i am grateful that in turning the pages of alan alexander milne’s classic children’s tale, a wee child sodden with sadness might find a kindred shadow in the likes of dear friend eeyore. no one likes to be alone in sorrow. i know very few who would appreciate a swift “get over it” when feeling wearied by the world, with no quick fix in sight.

and so i burrow against the contours of the dreary donkey. i embrace his full expression of how dark it sometimes feels. and, unlike eeyore, i look forward to the dawn when the sky is once again awash in pretty pink.

i can’t quite think of a question, so i offer simply this: if you’re feeling eeyore glum, may you find some tiny shred of solace in knowing you are not alone. one thing to contemplate might be this: what are the few ties to hope that sometimes pull you from the doldrums? do you have any tricks up your sleeve that chase the clouds away?

please pray for my beloved auntie M, as she is known in these parts, and where she has been my number one love angel since the very day she walked into my life—and my heart—my sophomore year of college.

barreling on, gently…

christmas-morning bread pudding, eight days late

it wasn’t the winter break it was supposed to be. or the christmas. or the new years. two of us were behind closed doors for days on end. one of us is still shuffling from armchair to armchair, plopping down for little puffs of air. another one has blotchy red spots on the back of his hands, covid rash they call it. the other two of us strained to keep two steps ahead and out of the path of the red-spiked intruder.

but we barreled on, the four of us. christmas-morning bread pudding finally billowed in the oven on january 2. and ever since we’ve been trying to shove the train back onto the rails, to make the most of these 10 days before flights and calendars dissipate us once again.

it dawned on me in the middle of the night, as i shuffled through the dark to trace my way to the bathroom down the hall, that we were––at that very moment––all four of us safe under one single roof, as is my most settled equation, as is the variable i’ve prayed for, waited for, for two long years. and it hit me just as quickly how the four of us, over the years, have grown to be our own impenetrable force, a circle of loving each other fully and thoroughly through thick and thin and whatever the whims of life hurl our way. 

we’ve worked hard at that. it doesn’t come without determination and practice. it’s a living, breathing exercise in turning the other cheek, in forgiving, in listening, in quietly knocking on a bedroom door and asking, “can i come talk?” it’s long long hours on the long-distance line. it’s jumping in the car and driving hours, if necessary. it’s showing up, again and again. it’s being willing to admit, i blew it. i worry too much. i got scared. (or whatever is the foible of the hour.)

it’s believing in the best of each other. and giving yourself the time to see it. it’s figuring out that if someone else sees the best in me, maybe the best is deep down under there, after all. 

it’s a lifelong practice in practicing. in knowing there will be days when you don’t quite do your best. when your voice comes out in sharper tones than you’d intended. when you wish you lived alone. when tears sting your eyes, and eventually you hold each other tight.

it’s a testament to loving played out in episodes that take your breath away: the time the stranger called to say she’d found your kid unconscious, strewn on the bike path; the time your kid called to say he got into the law school of his dreams; the time the brand-new driver slunked in the house and handed over the speeding ticket he’d just gotten on his first friday night out; the time your mom turned to you and said they’d found a tumor, and weeks later your then-little one proposed a hat party to make a little bit of joy out of grammy losing all her hair. 

those are the strands that make a family, that stand a chance of weaving something whole in a world of rampant brokenness. it’s the little asides at the dinner table, or while stirring onions on the cookstove, the gospel spelled out––again and again––in certain truths you dare impart. it’s the notes you slide under the bedroom door. the stories they hear you share at the kitchen counter, or listening in on one of your phone calls. that’s the slow-unfurling whole of who you are, and what you believe, what you stand for, that gets spelled out, inscribed, passed on without a slip of parchment. 

families are made by choice or by birth. both stand strong against the cold winds of history. families take endless work, and infinite joy. at our house, it’s the laughter that is the certain glue. the antics that punctuate the pure delight. sometimes, too, it’s tears, the willingness to cry. always, it’s the listening, and the curiosities that drive the questions. hours and hours of questions. of true and telling replies.

it’s the most important work i’ve ever done. making a family, day after day after blessed loving day. it’s the hardest work, and the work that lifts my soul more than any other aim i’ve reached for. 

my definition of family is nothing like it was when i was little. i used to look to the scrubbed and polished clans who filled the church pew, all in matching hats and coats, lined up like stepping stones in graduated sizes. a lifetime of paying attention clobbered that flimsy facade. now the ones who teach me how it works are the ones who weather heartache, who do not give up, who tell the truth, don’t hide the hard parts.  

i remember in the hours before my firstborn was born, i was sitting all alone at the kitchen table, and i whispered words to God, promised to envelope that sweet child in all the love i could muster, to harbor him from every hurt. i’ve found out over the years that you can’t keep the ones you love from hurt, from heartache. but you can build a mighty shield, you can build an unbreakable ring of love and light, and you can be there to catch ’em when they falter, you can wrap them in your arms, rest their heads against your heartbeat, and you can promise them your love is one inextinguishable force, and your light will always always burn for them. and you can always make ’em laugh. and listen to their secrets, their hopes, their dreams, their prayers. 

and when the days don’t unfold the way you’d wished, the ways you’d dreamed of, well, you can wait till the darkness ends, and you can tuck a new bread pudding in the oven, and you can shuffle to the kitchen table, join hands, squeeze tight, and whisper, thank you God for bringing us this holy, holy moment, and letting us weather all of life––its best, its worst––with each other at our backs, our sides, our wholes

every family is its own story, is a vessel for a hundred thousand stories, some passed down from generations, and it’s hard work to make a tiny community of similar-but-unique human beings coalesce into something whole. how do you get through the hard parts? what’s your one essential ingredient? (questions need only be for your own personal reflection, as is always always the case.)

tis january, a month of new beginnings, and a happy birthday blessing to the one and only MJH, loyal reader, dear friend of this ol’ chair, and to my longtime beloved comrade MBW, whose birthdays are today!

covidian land of counterpane: geography for the new year

counterpane noun

coun·​ter·​pane | \ ˈkau̇n-tər-ˌpān

Definition of counterpane: BEDSPREAD

Origin (from Oxford Languages): early 17th century: alteration of counterpoint, from Old French contrepointe, based on medieval Latin culcitra puncta ‘quilted mattress’ (puncta, literally meaning ‘pricked’, from the verb pungere). The change in the ending was due to association with pane in an obsolete sense ‘cloth’.

***

when i was little, i was oft confined to bed when i got sick. and, as i recall, my childhood was pocked with the sorts of sicknesses for which bedroom doors were closed and meals delivered by metal tray. a dinner bell rested on my mirror-topped vanity, and i jingled it if in need of gingerale on ice, or saltine crackers in wee stacks. clearly, my mother of five was practicing astute infection control lest she find herself in charge of quintuple cases of whatever was my ailment of the hour.

it was all quotidian enough—scarlet fever, chicken pox, mumps, measles, really nasty flu. i twice was sent to hospitals for IVs and a week of restitution, and so, given the spells in bed, i came to think the land of counterpane a most familiar terrain. (maybe, in part, it’s why i was drawn to being a pediatric nurse.) and, of course, i populated the contours of my bedclothes with a well-steeped storybook imagination––hills and vales and undulations, the nooks and crannies of my make-believe lilliputian chambermates: trolls and elves and sprites and sometimes an imaginary baby sister.

among the first poems i memorized was robert louis stevenson’s “the land of counterpane,” a verse i know by heart: 

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

and so, this past stretch of days (now ten), once again behind closed bedroom door with trays duly delivered by the nurse in charge (now, the sweet, sweet man i married long ago), i find myself a-bed, beneath my counterpane, all my toys beside me laying. and (except for the few days when it was a bit of a challenge to catch a breath) it’s not been quite as dreadful as it might sound. 

apocalyptic broccoli, 30-year shelf life

i’ve windows on three sides with golden sunlight streaming in by day; at night, i watch the twinkling lights and street lamps that punctuate the darkness as far as i can see. and the wonders of laptops and itty-bitty phones mean you can stay in touch with even the longest lost compatriots (two friends from nursing school in fact), neighbors who’ve checked in every day, my faraway best friend who has been as close as close could be, and my distant cousin whom i adore who thought to overnight me a barrel of freeze-dried apocalyptic broccoli. and, best of all, i’ve got my covid buddy––my firstborn, the one who fell first––directly across the hall. he escaped solitary confinement at midnight last night, as we’re abiding by the 10-day rule unless a negative antigen test allows early egress (which, in his case, he never got). so he and i have had long hours of crossword puzzles and conversation that might not have unfolded had we both been skittering hither and yon. it’s the younger one i miss the most, as he’s taken to steering as clear as possible of me and my omicron. (the kid’s no dummy.) 

strange to think, a week ago i didn’t yet know what it was that had buckled me at the knees, and it would not be till christmas afternoon that the test result came back in red ink with exclamation mark, dare i miss the point. 

the lesson of this covid tale would be as one wise doctor told me just the other day: assume you’ve got it––and stay in isolation––till proven otherwise. testing is just a mess, and misses far too many positivities till all the contagions are scattered in your wake. i fear for what’s coming in a country shut down by this latest red-ringed mutation. but i enter it now armed with mighty antibodies (or so i hope and pray). and a determined willingness to do all i can to help the next one fallen to make it through with TLC, and all the isolation tips i’ve learned along the way.**

sticking to the rules, i’ll not be sprung from my confinement till the midnight bell tolls tonight, and the year turns as well, allowing me to begin afresh the year of our Lord MMXXII. 

my new year prayer is even more distilled than my christmas prayer a week ago:

dear God, let all of us have someone dear to check in on us, to bring us cups of tea, to care for us in tender ways (and even on the days when we’re not anchored in our lands of counterpane). keep us safe, dear God, and mindful of all that matters most: let us put down the weapons of words, of grudges, of cold hard shoulders. let us snap into focus to see that the path is short, is sometimes rough, and that the best way home is side by side, entwining elbows, and leaning toward the light. let us lock out the rampant toxicities (and i don’t mean the biologically viral ones), bar the doors to discourse that divides us, and strain to find our common common threads. we’re woven of the sacred, after all. it’s buried there, beneath the noise, the bombast, the sure evidence otherwise. the unfettered truth––most clearly realized on long nights when breath comes hard and fevers swirl––is this: life is swift. we’ve no escape from certain end, so let us make each day a living prayer in which we seek and find certain trace of all that’s heaven-sent, and all that hails from You, the One who fuels the light, who preaches love beyond measure and without end, and who gives us our each and every breath—even when it’s labored. blessed be that holy, holy breath, amen.

most of all, i hope and pray you’re well. and staying safe from this nasty bug that’s toppling us like tin soldiers.

what’s your prayer to usher in the new year?

** see isolation tips in comment down below!!!

quiet christmas, red-ringed edition

tasha tudor illustration from The Night Before Christmas

more than anything, i yearn for the quiet of christmas, the early morning silence when it’s just me puttering about the kitchen, cranking the oven, simmering spices on the stove. i take my morning prayer by flickering candle flame. or beneath the morning stars. or beside the woodsy fir, now strung with lights and berries, standing proud beside the ticking clock that chimes the hours.

i love listening for the first of the footsteps thumping onto the floorboards overhead, and the creaking of the old oak that follows. but long before that longed-for stirring breaks the silence, it’s into the depths of quiet that i surrender, that i’ve been waiting for all these weeks. the old house before its stirring. when it’s just barely breathing. and christmas is finally at the door.

it’s in that silence that i most absorbingly slip into the dusky hours of that ancient, ancient night, when amid the vastly-vaulted holy land, beneath the rough-hewn rafters of a barn, down low where the straw was matted, where the creatures intoned their moans and mews and cooing, a newborn babe let out a human cry. i like to imagine i’m peeking out from behind a post. i sometimes imagine the laboring mother reaching out her hand, reaching out for strength in the form of someone else’s flesh and delicate bone, reaching for another hand—my hand—to hold onto hers, to wipe her brow, her tears, to kneel down beside her and whisper certainties. “you got this,” i imagine saying, as these three words have so often scaffolded me in my own hours of trembling fears. 

but this christmas is not going to be like any other christmas. it’s not even like last year’s most unfamiliar christmas, when we all but hunkered down, when we awaited the vaccine just peeking over the horizon, when hope felt not too far off. 

no, this christmas, we’re all upside down again. it’s all changed and changing fast. as fast as that red-ringed variant omicron is mutating, is doubling in numbers inside some of us, our hopes and plans for christmas are changing too. 

there is abundant heartbreak this christmas. and here, on the very eve of christmas day, i don’t yet know what tomorrow will bring. but i’m willing to bed i won’t be leaving my bed.

given the headlines––the wildfire that is omicron––there’s a mighty fair chance your christmas is as tumbled up as ours. 

we’ve an uninvited visitor here, one who snuck in through the back door and turned everything inside out and slanted. yes, covid came, and in very short order canceled someone’s surgery, and canceled someone else’s flight from california. covid came and sent one of us all but seeing stars, she was so gulpingly alarmed. after all, i’ve lived the last nearly two years doing everything i could to lope at least two steps ahead: for months i was among the ones who washed every single grocery bag or box or pint hauled into this old house; i steered clear of crowds, wore not one but two masks unless alone in the woods, or tracing the lakeshore’s edge. met ones i love harbored on the front stoop a good twelve feet away. washed my hands to happy birthday thrice. (if twice was recommended, i opted always for the extra round of public health insurance.)

but covid caught up to us. my firstborn—home for the first christmas in two years—is quarantined in the room at the top of the stairs. i was quarantined in my little writing room until my PCR came back negative early yesterday morn. for two long days, i was calling the book-stacked chamber my covid cottage, my covid christmas cottage.

and now, after a long night with thermometer under tongue, i’m all but sure the red-ringed virus dodged the swab but has me in its clutches, since i feel more awful by the hour. i’m thinking omicron is wily, and mighty good at playing hide-and-seek. i’ll test again this morning. (bless the neighbors who drove home from ohio, where supply is far more abundant, with a wee stash of impossible-to-find DIY covid tests.)

most of all, i’ve worried about my mama, who does not want to be alone on christmas day, but whom we don’t want felled by this nasty, nasty scourge. dear God, don’t let her get it.

all the last minute upside-down-ness has clearly pointed to one simple single certain truth: if we can be gathered with the ones we love, under the same roof, by zoom or phone or mental telepathy, well then we’re blessed as blessed could be. 

this is not the way i imagined it, whispering christmas wishes through a crack beneath the door, leaving packages on the tray that ferries food and dishes in and out of the sickroom. too contagious to wander down the stairs and daydream by the light-strung tree. but here’s what matters: we are emphatically and undeniably all under one single roof. 

which, after all, is the answer to a hundred prayers. it’s what we lacked last year. and some iteration of what i wished for this year. 

while we untangle uncertainties here on the homefront, i still stand ready to unfurl a christmas morning’s benediction. 

a prayer for quiet christmas

dear God of starlit dawn, dear God of Light now coming, as we gather up this year, gather up the sorrows and the sweetness, hear our deepest cries. let us love even when our hearts get bumped and bruised. let us be gentle in the harshest hours. let us keep upright even when we’re wobbling. let us hold onto hope. let us seize the blessings as they unfold within our reach. lift up our tender memories, the ones we’ve loved and lost this year. let us carry forward their inextinguishable flame, and keep their incandescence blazing. dear God, as we bow down and bend our knees, let us behold the newborn wonder, and do all we can to absorb the holy light of this most silent silent night.

merry blessed christmas to each and every someone who wanders by the chair. may you be well, and hold tight to all your blessings.

nativity is birth, after all

fragment of The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Guido Reni, circa 1640

nativity, by dictionary definition, the occasion of a person’s birth. most often told in airbrushed terms. but i find myself drawn in more deeply by the grainiest of tellings. 

for me, the miraculous emerges in contemplating the earthiest of details: not simply imagining the lowings of the cow, or the stench of a barn, or the cold night air, but the raw biology of birthing. how it stretches almost to the breaking point the mother’s flesh and frame; the messiness of all the leaking. from afterbirth to latching on, gestation’s final act is no theater of the sanitized. 

that we begin our resurrection story in a barn, that the virgin mother did not escape the grunts and tears and unveiled exposures of labor pains, of crowning and pushing, of colostrum and breastmilk coming in, engorging. that divinity begins in common birth, as every one of us began: through birth canal and searing pain, through a mother’s intense focus and channeled superhuman forces, through flesh to flesh for days and weeks on end. 

as one poet so powerfully put it: “For any birth makes an inconvenient demand; / Like all holy things / It is frequently a nuisance, and its needs never end /…” and as another poet begins her own musings, “sometimes I wonder / if Mary breastfed Jesus. / if she cried out when he bit her / or if she sobbed when he would not latch. / …”

two poems, both nativity poems, struck me hard this week. they trickled in separately, but when i looked at them together, side by side, i found them magnifying and illuminating in echo of each other. 

here are the poems, and a bit about each poet. all in the spirit of drawing our deepening attention to the birthing story coming….

first the poems, beginning with the older one, written some time between 1939 and 1943 (i discovered it last year, and promptly ordered from england anne ridler’s collected poems); and the newer poem, written just two years ago and published on facebook, no less, on december 16, 2019.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s watercolour of The Nativity

Christmas and the Common Birth
by Anne Ridler

Christmas declares the glory of the flesh:
And therefore a European might wish
To celebrate it not at mid winter but in spring,
When physical life is strong,
When the consent to live is forced even on the young,
Juice is in the soil, the leaf, the vein,
Sugar flows to movement in limbs and brain.
Also, before a birth, nourishing the child,
We turn again to the earth
With unusual longing – to what is rich, wild,
Substantial: scents that have been stored and strengthened
In apple lofts, the underwash of woods, and in barns;
Drawn through the lengthened root; pungent in cones 
(While the fir wood stands waiting; the beechwood aspiring,
Each in a different silence), and breaking out in spring 
With scent sight sound indivisible in song.

Yet if you think again 
It is good that Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year 
That might wish to sleep ever.
For birth is awaking, birth is effort and pain;
And now at midwinter are the hints, inklings 
(Sodden primrose, honeysuckle greening)
That sleep must be broken.
To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy;
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way 
It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
For any birth makes an inconvenient demand;
Like all holy things 
It is frequently a nuisance, and its needs never end;
Freedom it brings: we should welcome release
From its long merciless rehearsal of peace.

   So Christ comes 
At the iron senseless time, comes 
To force the glory into frozen veins:
   His warmth wakes 

Green life glazed in the pool, wakes 
All calm and crystal trance with the living pains.

   And each year 
In seasonal growth is good – year 
That lacking love is a stale story at best; 
   By God’s birth 
Our common birth is holy; birth
Is all at Christmas time and wholly blest.

***

William Blake’s The Nativity

sometimes i wonder
 by Kaitlin Hardy Shetler

sometimes I wonder
if Mary breastfed Jesus.
if she cried out when he bit her
or if she sobbed when he would not latch.

and sometimes I wonder
if this is all too vulgar
to ask in a church
full of men
without milk stains on their shirts
or coconut oil on their breasts
preaching from pulpits off limits to the Mother of God.

but then i think of feeding Jesus,
birthing Jesus,
the expulsion of blood
and smell of sweat,
the salt of a mother’s tears
onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth,
feeling lonely
and tired
hungry
annoyed
overwhelmed
loving

and i think,
if the vulgarity of birth is not
honestly preached
by men who carry power but not burden,
who carry privilege but not labor,
who carry authority but not submission,
then it should not be preached at all.

because the real scandal of the Birth of God
lies in the cracked nipples of a
14 year old
and not in the sermons of ministers
who say women
are too delicate
to lead.

***

Anne Bradby Ridler (1912-2001)

A British poet and librettist, remembered as “essentially a sacramental poet,” Anne Bradby Ridler was originally hired as a secretary at the London-based publisher Faber & Faber, and later worked as an assistant to T.S. Eliot, selecting the poems for A Little Volume of Modern Verse. She was a friend, too, of C.S. Lewis and W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas and Lawrence Durrell, and was considered “on the edge” of the Inklings group (the closest proximity for a woman of those times). Born to a literary family, her mother was a writer of children’s books, including The Enchanted Forest; her father, a first-class cricketer, schoolmaster, and poet.

According to a charming passage in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

“In childhood Anne Bradby was surrounded by influences that fed her imagination and intellectual inquisitiveness. At home there was white wallpaper and William Morris chintzes, a picture (attributed to Canaletto) of the Campanile at Venice and a Broadwood piano—and in playing it she experienced the joy which she later remembered Yehudi Menuhin describing as the essential ingredient for the education of any player. In Rugby School (where her father was schoolmaster) there was architecture by William Butterfield and in his style. In the community there were dramatized scenes from Shakespeare that her mother produced for the children of various families. A favourite place at home was the midway ledge of the double bookcase in the hall, in which was stored a mass of books. ‘Reading to myself’, she wrote, ‘began to be my greatest resource … and the basis of my imaginative life’.” 

She’s been called a modern metaphysical poet, whose work is rife with complex metaphors. Overtly Christian, she explored religious themes, and human experience, especially motherhood and marriage. “Many of her poems mark arrivals and departures: her husband leaving in wartime, the birth of a child, the death of her father. The need to understand things passing and to give them some currency in memory and then in poetry lies at the heart of her work,” wrote Peter Forbes, editor of the Poetry Review, shortly after her death.

She earned a degree in journalism from King’s College London; her first volume of poetry was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1940. A member for three decades of the Oxford Bach Choir, her poetries are best heard aloud, “full of subtle coloration and rhetorical balance.” You can hear her reading one of my favorites, “Snakeshead Fritillaries” here.

Shortly after her death in October of 2001, The Guardian wrote in her obituary: “Ridler’s poetry displayed an attention to cadence and musicality in both her formal and her free verse, and managed to combine a Christian spirituality and Latinate, Elizabethan elegance with a more modern, even sceptical, tone. While some poems are overtly religious – Carol To Be Set To Music and Prayer In A Pestilent Time – she would more often situate her everyday subjects in contexts of both faith and doubt.” Later in the obit, the literary critic Grave Lindop was quoted as saying: “She had the clearest and best-balanced poetic intelligence I have ever met.”

Shortly before her death, Ridley was made an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to literature. She sought not fame, preferring, she once claimed, “to think of herself as invisible.” According to the Poetry Archive, a British-based not-for-profit that preserves recordings of poets reading their own works aloud, “Her quiet excellence, however, is far from inaudible.”

***

Kaitlin Hardy Shetler

Kaitlin Shetler’s poem, “sometimes i wonder,” has been called a “short sermon in the form of an Advent poem.” Shetler describes herself as an “advocate for women and justice, and occasional preacher in Churches of Christ circles.” This one poem—something of an internet sensation—was thought to have reached—through the powers of social media—more than 10 million, a number exceeding the worldwide membership of the evangelical Churches of Christ. And that was almost two years ago. The arithmetic knows no bounds. What’s most critical to understanding the subtext of her poem is that hers is a church known to be one of the most restrictive to women and girls in its fold (women and girls are completely excluded from speaking, or leading, or otherwise actively serving in its worship services).

Now a senior program associate at the Vera Institute of Justice, a not-for-profit whose mission is to end the overcriminalization and mass incarceration of people of color, immigrants, and people experiencing poverty, Shetler is a Licensed Master Social Worker, and described on the Vera Institute’s website thusly: “Kaitlin has over 10 years’ experience working with vulnerable populations. During her senior year in undergrad, she managed the domestic violence shelter in her college’s small town. After college, she spent a year working as a case manager and mental health intern at the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital. After graduating from the University of Tennessee Knoxville with her master’s in social work, Kaitlin worked as a behavioral rehabilitation instructor for the state of Tennessee. There she developed a passion for the disability community and best practices for advocating for young adults with disabilities.”

She started writing poetry in 2018, and her Advent poem, a year later; since then, she’s penned a growing library of Poems for the Resistance. She mentioned in one interview that she “felt a little guilty about taking credit for this poem, because I truly feel it was God speaking and I was just writing it down.”

Her mission, she says, is “to find the kicked out, the bruised, and burdened and to learn at their feet.” 

***

and through her poetry, we all do.

through both their poetries–through anne’s, the poet who preferred invisibility, and through kaitlin’s, who has found a pulpit in her poems–i find myself on my knees, contemplating the complexities and interweavings of birth and God, of the radical equation that is the Christmas wonder.

amen, amen to all.

your thoughts on the poems? or your own favorite nativity poem?

huge and unending thanks to my beloved friend andrea who sent me kaitlin’s poem, and to the inimitable poet priest malcolm guite, who a year ago sent me (and many others) the beginnings of my anne ridler steepings.

p.s. one tiny housekeeping thing: for clarity’s sake, when writing the biographies above, i step into my big-girl writing shoes and bring out the caps key, lest my fondness for lower-case prove too vexing when trying to seize the facts. (and maybe just to prove i can find the caps key when pressed!)

almost old enough to drive a car…

fifteen years ago, on a cold and dark december dawn, i picked a name, a font, a picture, and i began to type. following the faint outlines of a dream, a vision, a sacred place where the ordinary—the quotidian—was lifted up and plumbed for universal truths and wisdoms and epiphanies. sometimes made sacramental, a transfiguration of domesticity, of the everyday, the plane where most of us live, far from fanfare, from headline, from public debate.

this old chair, pull up a chair—an invitation and a welcome—is now old enough that i nostalgically think back to the beginning, when a kindergartener was asleep upstairs. when the patterings of his pajama-bottomed feets syncopated the rhythms of this house, and when i could—and would—sweep him up in my arms, perch him on a hipbone, and bring him along, my sidekick to whatever was afoot. he’s 20 now. and he shaves.

one whole school year, this old chair (sometimes thought of as the old maple table where elbows and mugs are planted every friday morning) traveled to cambridge, our year of thinking sumptuously in the deep bookshelves and densely-packed lecture halls of harvard college, poking around in the wilds of walden pond, calling it all home sweet home from our third-floor aerie high above franklin avenue and the bells of harvard square.

two boys grew up under my close watch here; their inimitable lines and antics inscribed here. a moon walk, a lesson in the art of seeing (binoculars optional), the adventures of the long and crooked way home. and more and more…

over the years, i’ve marked deaths, and lifted up ones we dearly loved: a grandfather, grandmother, dear dear friends (mary ellen and ceci, to name two). a house, and, yes, even a beloved family cat who went by the name of turkey baby meow meow choo choo. but, too, i’ve captured birth: a niece, and a nephew who’s turning nine today.

we’ve weathered dark days—in our souls and in our one republic under God. we’ve gathered shards of light. so many, so so many.

we’ve ticked off the seasons, savoring each one for its parables, its wisdoms, and its beauties.

four books* have been birthed from here, beyond my wildest, wildest dreams. what matters is not their royalties (enough to buy a donut at the donut shop, perhaps with side of coffee) but their simple quiet existence and their placement on two particular shelves, where some day they might be pulled down, opened, read. and rememberings will come. if i’m blessed, my heart and soul will jump off the pages, and they’ll be wrapped again in my most essential murmurings. they will know, once again, how i loved them. and exactly how i made my mac ’n’ cheese.

i’ve recorded here chapter endings: my leavetaking after almost 30 years at the chicago tribune, the newspages that brought me love, joy, and lasting lessons; the leavetaking just this past year of my very own prize-winning architecture critic. high schools have been graduated from, and college, too (with another one of those now moving squarely onto the horizon). and a law school, to boot.

i’ve watch suns rise and moons illuminate the night. heard cardinals sing. and awaited the viburnum’s deliverance as it punctuates the springtime with its magnificence and its spicy perfume. 

i’ve discovered saints and poets. unfurled poetries. penned ten thousand prayers. made lasting friends. 

you’ve allowed me to be my truest self: quiet, shy in a way that can also be effervescent and effusive. profoundly prayerful, outside the bounds of any walled cathedral. you’ve allowed me to bring my heart’s many aches. and no one once has ever shamed me, a condition i was hard-wired to fear in my growing-up years.

most of all we’ve made this the sacred quiet gentle place we all believed in, and all built together. stories have been told, tears shed, laughter arisen. you’ve made me wiser, made me gasp, and taken my breath away with your wonders, your wisdoms, your ways with words.

for 15 years. almost old enough to drive a car…

bless you and thank you, thank you, thank you, from my old chair here at this most blessed table.

you have made these chairs a holy table. without you, this would be a hollow echo in a long-lost nook or cranny.

xoxox

*a fifth book is coming, and it’ll be the first whose roots are not directly traced to here. it’s my first from-scratch book, and it’s titled: The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God’s First Sacred Text, so clearly its spirit is rooted here…..

where were you in december of 2006? and how did you find the chair?

in the category keepin’-it-humble, i had a spectacular fail last friday when i was giving a zoom talk to some 300 souls, gathered for a virtual First Friday Club of Chicago lunchtime talk, and my laptop first stuttered then died, right in the middle of 50 carefully curated slides and words. some of you might know that i get spectacularly nervous before any talk (which is why i would never ever mention an upcoming talk here), and even though wings seem to carry me most times, this was a doozy. pretty much a zoom nightmare in real time. the good folks in the control room were able to re-record the part where the fail happened, and splice it to the rest. so, thanks to the wizardry of tech geniuses, you can’t quite tell anything was amiss. but i know, and i might have a hard time forgetting. it was a talk titled, In the Stillness of Winter, Stirring Assuredly Comes. it’s about half an hour, and if you want a bit of chair come to life, minus the blooper, here tis.

fragility

one of those phone calls came the other afternoon, the sort that snap you into realizing with every synapse that this fragile interwebbing we call our lives is so precariously held together, barely a breath keeps the filaments from snapping right in two. it was one of those calls when one minute you think the biggest worry on your list is the ache in your hand that won’t be quelled, and then the phone rings. you hear the voice you know so well. you hear the depths of its deepest canyons, and the words can’t spill quite fast enough. you listen, and you hear words that send you tumbling, catapulting down an unimaginable chute for which there feels no bottom.

you hear words that someone you love dearly has just gotten word from a doctor, and there’s a death sentence attached.

and you spend the next 18 hours barely breathing. swiping tears from your cheeks, your chin, your nose, the hard back of your hand.

blessedly, miraculously, that call was followed by a clarifying one the morning after, and it turns out the message first conveyed was not nearly as drastic as originally told. the one i love has every reason to believe he’ll be around years and years from now.

but in the intervening space, in the hours of scanning the whole of my life and the deepest places in my heart, i stared once again at the fragile filaments that hold us, that position us, that sometimes fool us into thinking they’re indestructible. we forget the fragility. we forget how each day when we first stir under our covers, plant a wobbly foot on the floorboards, peek out the window at the rising sun’s pink wash across the sky, it’s a miracle. it’s a flat-out gift that no one dare take for granted.

because in a sweep, in a single phone call, in a tumbling out of words–in a heartbeat–it could all be gone. poof! no longer….

i didn’t mean to scare you here, the way i wrote this, the way i waited a whole paragraph to let you know the coast is clear. but i did mean to remind us all that this is fragile, oh so, so fragile.

most of us have gotten those phone calls, those knocks at the door. i got one when i was 18, and another when i was 24. i admit to living too much on the edge of fear.

but it’s hard to scrub away the clear memory of the operator breaking in the phone call, telling me there was an emergency, and someone needed to interrupt the call. hard to wipe away the long drive through the blizzard, the walking the hospital halls, kneeling with my youngest brother in the stripped-bare hospital chapel as cold as everything else that night. hard to undo the doctor’s somber words, when he walked down the hall, ashen, and simply said, “i’m sorry.”

it’s hard to forget six years earlier the unfamiliar sight of my father walking into the drug store where i worked, telling me in the middle of a weekday afternoon that i had to come home, i was being taken to a hospital. hard to forget all the nightmare that unfolded after that.

with those indelible etchings on my heart, i count myself among the blessed ones, the ones less likely to forget most days just how precious this all is. just what a miracle it is that i became a mother to two boys who are as precious to me as all the magnificence in this wide world. that i met a man i dearly fiercely love, a man whose depths have steadied me, have buoyed me, have fueled my updraft in ways i never ever dreamed. that i’ve lived well past the 52 years my blessed father was allotted. and that i never take for granted a moon’s rise, or the sun’s setting. i live to hear the cardinal singing, to stir something bubbling on the stove. life’s littlest miracles are the sum and substance of my days. and then you add the big ones — the loves that animate my heart and soul, the laughter that punctuates the hours, the wisdoms that take my breath away — and i am living, breathing, holy gratitude.

and i aim to live my life at fullest attention.

what moments in your life have made you see the fragility that underpins it all?

to name them is a prayer…

the thought struck me, as thoughts often do, as i got to the last line of a poem that read (to me anyway) as a prayer.

the last lines were these:

I take refuge in You
from the inextricable mischief
of every thing You made,
eggs, milk, cinnamon, kisses, sleep.

it was in the quiet of the quotidian, the kisses tucked in between the cinnamon and sleep. the noticing the eggs and milk. that’s what took my breath away. nine hundred times out of 10, eggs and milk might be mere scribbles on a grocery list, but really, when you pause long enough, when you think about it, when you find them there on the shelf of the icebox, and don’t find yourself dashing to the store to grab the eggs to make the french toast your kid home from college is hungry for, their being there at all is a blessing, a grace, a reason to whisper hallelujah, which is just a jubilant form of thank you.

it’s in the fine grain, again and again, that some of the most sumptuous gratitudes—graces—are found. the hundred and one barely perceptible goodnesses that cross our paths each day. but if we don’t name them, do we notice them?

to name them is a prayer.

more often, too often, when we sit down to count our blessings, we sweep across the broad terrain of our lives, grab the big stuff, swoop right over the infinitesimal, and, well, we lose ’em, lose their power to inject a jolt of realizing just how darn blessed we really truly are.

talk to someone who’s never heard a cardinal sing the world to sleep. or the pit-a-pat of rain on the roof. talk to someone who can’t push up from a chair. or saunter down to the mailbox. or taste the tart-sweet pop of a pomegranate seed. ask them how hard they might have prayed for that sound, that step, that sweetness.

what we don’t notice, all the things that we forget to count, just might be the out-of-reach to someone else. just might be the thing for which they pray so mightily. day after holy, holy day…

seems right to up our game, our paying-attention game. it’s a praying pose, after all.

and so, in this season of counting up and gathering a motherlode of blessings, i decided to give it a whirl, to put my eye to the fine-grain ones, the ones that come without bullhorn or billboard, the ones that simply quietly punctuate the day. i kept watch across the week. and knowing that to name them is a prayer, i named them, each and every one. here’s an abbreviated census:

  • my answer man of a brother, the one i know i can call midway through turkey prep to get an educated opinion on whether to leave the naked bird to air dry in fridge, or leave him (the bird, not the brother) shrink-wrapped for another cold dark night.
  • the husband who sees the joy in a vintage turntable on which to play rescued vinyl from his youth, and thinks nothing of driving 38 miles on thanksgiving eve to fetch it from the one store that happens to have a single one in stock.
  • the rare, rare gift of standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the cookstove with my firstborn, (well, really, my shoulder hits him at about mid-rib) instead of being connected by the long, long-distance phone line. 
  • knowing two boys are in beds up above my head as i sit here tap-tapping on the keys, and the sheer joy of knowing they’re stirring when i hear the floorboards creak.
  • the heating and cooling guy who two years ago promised he’d get us a new vent for over the stove, and at 4 o’clock on the eve of thanksgiving called to say he was on his way over. and then promised no schmutz would flutter down into the pots already simmering away on the stove….
  • the lull on thanksgiving eve, when the potatoes have been mashed, the naked bird is air-drying, and the choreographed list awaits the dawn….
  • and on the day of feasting itself, nothing beats the sheer hallelujah of finally, finally having every last morsel out of the oven, off the stove, and on the table. and as you plop your bum in the chair, pour your knob of prosecco, you look across the maple planks, set with hand-me-down plates and rescued candlesticks, and drink in the faces of those you so deeply, dearly love.
  • the pink wash of dawn that veiled the garden this morning as i hauled out the bulging bags of recyclables from a long day’s imbibing and inhaling…
  • and one last one, just found tucked in the mailbox, from the darling darling little angels who live across the street, and who make my heart do cartwheels every time our days entwine:
  • and no proper list would end without this: the incredible warmth and the wisdom that never ever fails to burst through the glass screen of any laptop or phone, from all the wonderful “chairs” who ring this globe. you–yes, YOU!–are among the dearest in my life, and you never ever cease to melt my heart. thank you for always being kind, always bringing wisdom, and making this the sacred place we all believe in….

what fine grains are on your list?

praise song for november

ever since the jersey sojourner landed safely back home here along the shores of our great lake, this old house has been awash in crumpled-up wads of packing paper, and boxes, and bubblewrap. i’ve been up to my hipbones wading through it all, trying to find tucked-away places for treasures now in our keep, relics salvaged from a faraway house now awaiting its death blows. 

and that’s when, while sipping a time-out tea, i scrolled through the mail and stumbled upon a praise poem, a praise poem so lovely it made time expand, a few short minutes turned into what felt like a goodly chunk of time, and i carried the praise poem with me while i worked. 

here’s the poem worthy of praising:

Praise Song

Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there’s left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn’t cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.

~ Barbara Crooker ~
 (Abalone Moon, Summer 2004)

next time i took a break from all the stripping away of papers and the swiping away of cobwebs in the places i’d found for storing, i decided to dig into a bit of knowledge about this literary genre that pulses with pure and unfiltered heart, one praise practically tripping over another. 

here are but a few bare bones, mostly dug up from my friends at britannica (the encyclopedia, that is): praise poetry first stirred in medieval literature, especially during the renaissance, when it poured forth worship of or admiration for heroes, kings, or deities.

it seems the praise poem––also called mlenmlen, oriki, or praise name––is one of the most widely used poetic forms in africa, a series of laudatory epithets––descriptive word-pictures or word-paintings––applied to gods, men, animals, plants, towns, you name it. the point is to capture the essence of whoever or whatever is being praised, and to lavish praise.

think not that just anyone is inclined to get up and start praising, at least not in the african homeland. professional bards––akin to a court poet––are the ones ordained to chant praise songs, with the reciter taking position in an open space, visible to all assembled. the reciting begins in high voice, rhythmic backbeat sometimes provided by spear stomped against ground, a punctuational note that would get my attention. metaphor is a key device, so too poetic license for coining new words. (i’m in with anyone who’s making up words.)

it’s an oral form that, not surprisingly, found its way to worship in the american black tradition, and, now rooted there, fills the sanctuary of many a black church. you might remember elizabeth alexander’s glorious “praise song for the day” written for and recited at president obama’s first inauguration, on that cold yet hopeful january day in 2009. (so far in the distance now, it almost seems like another america.)

inspired by this notion of rolling praise, especially in this season of gathering gratitudes, i decided to try my own, mindful that praise is another name for anointing through blessing. the beannacht is the celtic version thereof, the bracha is how jews unfurl their blessings. all the earth and its inhabitants, certainly the ones humble enough to know we’re not here of our own making, seem hardwired to nod, bend knee, and bow. i beg permission to attempt the tradition, and hereby begin:

Praise the homecomings of late November, the footsteps you know by heart, the ones that tell you someone you love is just one floor above, and any minute now his bear-like hungers will awake, will startle, and he’ll come foraging into the woods of your well-fruited refrigerator. 

Praise the mottled gray November skies, the herringbone of heaven and cloud, infinite afghan we draw round our shoulders, as November signals its call to begin the turning in, the deepening quiet of winter coming. 

Praise the molasses light of waning November, pooling across floorboards, magnifying the smudge and the splatters of each and every unwashed windowpane. 

Praise the gathering table you’ll set for the first time in a too-long time. Praise the remembering that comes as you haul out the once-a-year dishes, as your riffle through the recipe tin, bring to the feast heirlooms––and long-gone stirrers of pots––of kitchens past. 

Praise the voices soon to rise from the room where the forks and the knives will scrape against plates, where stories will unspool, and laughter—praise be—will punctuate the convening, weave the disparate souls of the room into one. 

Praise the stripped-bare essence of autumn’s end, the disrobing almost over now. Limb and bough and trunk, exposed against the palette of sky. Praise the way we see more now, as less is there to get in the way. Let that be our guiding vision.

Praise the wisdom that comes with November’s close, these days ripe for inner harvest. When the orchard’s gone sleeping, the fields have gone fallow, sift through the loam that’s rich in your soul. Root around, take in wisdom, turn the page, listen to the forest, or the grasses that rustle to the song of winter’s-coming. Let it sink in, sink deep, all through the slumbering months.

here’s a variation on praise, a heavenly one, albeit written in deepening shades of darkness, from one of my very favorite poets, w.s. merwin. it’s titled simply, “thanks.”

Thanks

W. S. Merwin – 1927-2019

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
standing 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

From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin.

both the crooker praise poem and possibly the merwin (should you care to make a point, to stir a somber note into your table’s conversation) might be welcome at your gratitude table. or you might be inclined to pen your own. either way, from my old maple table to your table in whatever its form, blessings, blessings, and praise be to the chairs. 

do you have a praise poem you love? what praise would you pen should you be so inspired?