Art, Poetry, Music, and Nature for the New Year
Monday, January 4 2021
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3–4
Is it always true that those who have endured struggle are the ones most able to articulate a rich and storied gratitude? Not always, I guess, because some become more like the Grinch and less like a saint, but in the case of Marge Piercy, she found the art of thank you and held on tight. Born in Detroit in 1936 on the heels of the Great Depression, Piercy had a gentle childhood until late elementary school where the German measles and rheumatic fever almost took her life. She was raised in the Jewish faith by her Lithuanian grandmother (her maternal grandfather was murdered while working to unionize bakery Detroit workers) and in her biography, she credits her mother with teaching her to “enjoy what you can because trouble is never far off…. Pay sharp attention to the trouble looming but don’t let it taint your Shabbat celebration.” Her poem “The Art of Blessing the Day” gives texture to our hope for such celebration and attentive gratitude.
God who holds every looming trouble and carries light into every celebration, may there be blessing “at full throttle” in the year ahead. Amen.
Marge Piercy “The Art of Blessing the Day” (1999)
This is the blessing for rain after drought:
Come down, wash the air so it shimmers,
a perfumed shawl of lavender chiffon.
Let the parched leaves suckle and swell.
Enter my skin, wash me for the little
chrysalis of sleep rocked in your splashing.
In the morning the world is peeled to shining.
This is the blessing for sun after long rain:
Now everything shakes itself free and rises.
The trees are bright as pushcart ices.
Every last lily opens its satin thighs.
The bees dance and roll in pollen
and the cardinal at the top of the pine
sings at full throttle, fountaining.
This is the blessing for a ripe peach:
This is luck made round. Frost can nip
the blossom, kill the bee. It can drop,
a hard green useless nut. Brown fungus,
the burrowing worm that coils in rot can
blemish it and wind crush it on the ground.
Yet this peach fills my mouth with juicy sun.
This is the blessing for the first garden tomato:
Those green boxes of tasteless acid the store
sells in January, those red things with the savor
of wet chalk, they mock your fragrant name.
How fat and sweet you are weighing down my palm,
warm as the flank of a cow in the sun.
You are the savor of summer in a thin red skin.
This is the blessing for a political victory:
Although I shall not forget that things
work in increments and epicycles and sometime
leaps that half the time fall back down,
let’s not relinquish dancing while the music
fits into our hips and bounces our heels.
We must never forget, pleasure is real as pain.
The blessing for the return of a favorite cat,
the blessing for love returned, for friends’
return, for money received unexpected,
the blessing for the rising of the bread,
the sun, the oppressed. I am not sentimental
about old men mumbling the Hebrew by rote
with no more feeling than one says gesundheit.
But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.
Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.