post thanksgiving post

I ask the students I visit about their Thanksgiving. Did they make pies? The sixth graders try to outdo one another, fabricating supposed pie after pie (lemon, coconut cream, cherry banana fudge, wha?) but most blurt, “no but I ate pie!” “Me too,” I say.

I watched my mom finish her pies, the traditional one pumpkin, one pecan. Late to the kitchen this year, I had to grab a bit of surplus pie dough out of the sink for a taste before it slid down the drain. Close call. For the last couple years whoever’s at home and loitering in the kitchen while the pies bake will call up whoever’s missing and treat them to an early morning ‘For the Beauty of the Earth,’ emphasis on the relatives verse (For the joy of human love, Brother, sister, parent, child). We laugh and mom gets teary-eyed. Anticipating this year’s serenade, I looked up the hymn before Thanksgiving and found some verses that aren’t listed in most hymnals. They are here, and my favorite new-to-me verse is below.

For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight;
For the mystic harmony,
Linking sense to sound and sight;
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise.


well said, mr. berry

Maybe I’d seen a photo of Wendell Berry before, but I don’t think so. I looked up his picture after listening to this interview on the Dianne Rehm show. Usually the faces I conjure for radio voices are way off (take Garrison Keillor, didn’t expect that scowl) but Mr. Berry looks to me exactly as he sounds. Kind, wise, feeling. Deliberate yet unassuming.

He says ‘because’ slowly, just as my Papa did. Like this: ‘becaows.’ Can you hear it? It’s almost like a wolf howling inside the be and se. I borrowed a book of Wendell Berry’s poetry from friends and worked through it slowing for a time, pausing at poems like this:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

And this:

The Thought of Something Else

A spring wind blowing
the smell of the ground
through the intersections of traffic,
the mind turns, seeks a new
nativity—another place,
simpler, less weighted
by what has already been.

Another place!
it’s enough to grieve me—
that old dream of going,
of becoming a better man
just by getting up and going
to a better place.

The mystery. The old
unaccountable unfolding.
The iron trees in the park
suddenly remember forests.
It becomes possible to think of going

—a place where thought
can take its shape
as quietly in the mind
as water in a pitcher,
or a man can be
safely without thought
—see the day begin
and lean back,
a simple wakefulness filling
the spaces among the leaves.

Take a listen to the interview. Mr. Berry answers listeners’ questions carefully and says we can take heart from the natural world because of its ability to take a lot of abuse and continue, renewing its life year after year; that the earth is consolingly beautiful, and that its economic worth is inseparable from its beauty and meaning to us. Deep breath.

please pass the peach

I visited my brother in New York last week and had this tasty salad at a Cuban restaurant: sweet corn, mango, avocado, cilantro and (I think) lime juice. Have mercy. It was so fresh and so clean, clean.

Mark Bittman wrote this article in the New York Times – 101 Simple Salads. Oh, boy.

I’m glad summertime is peach time. Here’s to nectar between your fingers. Cheers!


etsy love | iris schwarz

The Accordion Player

How about these from Etsy. The artist is Iris Schwarz – her Etsy shop is Paulette Edition. The drawings remind me a little of Story People, just a little more hollow. Some favorites:
The Flower Listener
An Empty Moment (This one makes my chest cave in a little)
The Boot Lover

Next time I have to think really hard, I will wear a green dress and stretch my head hard to the right. I’ll listen to flowers in sweatbands, head bowed left.

(Sorry about the hanging ‘an’ in the An Empty Moment caption. Not sure what to do about it.)

earth talk, root wrangle

More from Mary. She and I have become rather tight this Spring. We’ve established this: Her work = art. Remember what John Updike said about art? This:

“What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.”

Not only does her poetry make me feel less alone, it gives my spirit room. Room for cream, for filling up on what is natural and simple and completely unmerited. A gift invariably and overwhelmingly reassuring. [What was that? Rolling out too much of the superlative in this post? Noted.]

Here’s the poem:


Every Spring
the ambiguities
of childhood

the hillsides grew white
with wild trilliums.
I believed in the world.
Oh, I wanted

to be easy
in the peopled kingdoms,
to take my place there,
but there was none

that I could find
shaped like me.
So I entered
through the tender buds,

I crossed the cold creek,
my backbone
and my thin white shoulders
unfolding and stretching.

From the time of snow-melt,
when the creek roared
and the mud slid
and the seeds cracked,

I listened to the earth-talk
the root-wrangle
the arguments of energy,
the dreams lying

just under the surface,
then rising,
at the last moment

flaming and luminous –
the patient parable
of every spring and hillside
year after difficult year.
-Mary Oliver

Mary isn’t all hillsides and flowers. As if to say . . . let’s not forget the darkness, the loneliness, pain, the snatching, the feeling of otherness in a world in which everyone’s the same. Nature – the patterns of animals and elements – is indifferent to the darkness. And yet this indifference is comforting, “the patient parable.” In as much as I am moved by sadness, I’m overwhelmed by nature, by creation. By the Bachelor’s Buttons and weeds on my breakfast table, the rain falling so straight down and hard it could drill holes in the earth. I’m seasoned in the darkness, not so accustomed to light, but Spring – in its same newness – surprised me more than usual this year. Even the dead peonies that’ve dried up all their water expand my insides. I can’t keep my face out of the wisteria.


And then there’s the Artist of the poet, of spirit and room, the hillside, thin white shoulders, patience and trilliums, breath and cream, light and absence. From Psalm 62: He’s solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul, An impregnable castle.

Children came for supper tonight. They asked about the tall twigs in a vase on my floor, “Why are those sticks in that pot? Did that used to be a tree in your house that you let die? What’s that tree’s name?” Somehow their questions relate to all the rest of this in my head. I’m still figuring it out. You can draw your own conclusions.

…which leads to Mary Oliver

Yesterday I read in this week’s Time Magazine, Meg Ryan writing why, in her experience, Tom Hanks is one of Time’s 100 most influential people.  She describes their friendship (good friend, that Tom) and writes, “Someone said art is whatever it is that makes you feel less alone,”  likening Tom to art.  (I think Tom’s photo in the article likens him to a wax sculpture.)  Meg’s is a loose definition to be sure.  If this were true, I could make a strong case for peanut butter and many might call the Snuggie art.  I don’t know about PB, the Snuggie, or Tom, but I thought of Mary Oliver (anyone who has been around lately knows most everything these days reminds me of Mary Oliver).   Her poetry is Art, and Meg’s dinner conversation art definition seems to be another reason why:  it makes me feel less alone.  Here’s a start:

Mysteries, Yes 

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood. 

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem. 

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers. 

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

 Mary Oliver