August 6: “Route 684, Southbound Rest Stop”

So you see why it could not have been a more humble moment.
If there was any outward sign of regalia
It might have been the twilight crowning of the day, just then,
A perfect moment of dusk, but changing, as a wave does
Even as you admire it. Because the southbound stop
Mirrors the one northbound where we so often find ourselves
At the beginning, southbound’s return holds the memory
Of northbound’s setting-out, and the grassy median between
With its undisturbed trees defines an elusive strip of the present
Where no one lives. After twenty-eight years of the trip,
It’s like two beakers of colored water — one green, one blue —
Have poured themselves back and forth, because
On one side we are tinted by remembering the other.
But this aspect of the journey, at least, we know we will repeat.
As dusk cohered that moment — aquas, pinks, violets —
Just at that moment as I was returning to the car
A woman came the other way, her two young daughters
Holding her hands, and the gloaming sparkled around them
So that I froze, as they were backlit, starry,
They were the southbound reminder of who I had been beginning
The trip. She didn’t look like me, but what I did recognize
Was her clarity of purpose, in what Sharon Olds called
the days of great usefulness, making life as nice
As she could for them, always writing the best story,
And also, beneath her skin, living with delight as quiet
As the shoots anchoring grass beneath the earth.
I walked back to my car. My husband sat in the driver’s seat,
Our weekend’s luggage thrown in back.
Tell me we really had those girls, I said,
and that they held my hands like that. When I got home
I pictured her helping them each into bed — I knew it was
Later than she had hoped — then reading
Each section of the paper’s terrible news, finally alone.
— Jessica Greenbaum
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June 29: “The Traveling Onion”

“It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an
object of worship —why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion
entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.” — Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way the knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.
And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,
disappear.

— Naomi Shihab Nye

February 19: “Contentment”

“Man wants but little here below”

Little I ask; my wants are few;
I only wish a hut of stone,
(A very plain brown stone will do,)
That I may call my own;—
And close at hand is such a one,
In yonder street that fronts the sun.

Plain food is quite enough for me;
Three courses are as good as ten;—
If Nature can subsist on three,
Thank Heaven for three. Amen!
I always thought cold victual nice;—
My choice would be vanilla-ice.

I care not much for gold or land;—
Give me a mortgage here and there,—
Some good bank-stock, some note of hand,
Or trifling railroad share,—
I only ask that Fortune send
A little more than I shall spend.

Honors are silly toys, I know,
And titles are but empty names;
I would, perhaps, be Plenipo,—
But only near St. James;
I’m very sure I should not care
To fill our Gubernator’s chair.

Jewels are baubles; ’t is a sin
To care for such unfruitful things;—
One good-sized diamond in a pin,—
Some, not so large, in rings,—
A ruby, and a pearl, or so,
Will do for me;—I laugh at show.

My dame should dress in cheap attire;
(Good, heavy silks are never dear;)—
I own perhaps I might desire
Some shawls of true Cashmere,—
Some marrowy crapes of China silk,
Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.

I would not have the horse I drive
So fast that folks must stop and stare;
An easy gait—two forty-five—
Suits me; I do not care;—
Perhaps, for just a single spurt,
Some seconds less would do no hurt.

Of pictures, I should like to own
Titians and Raphaels three or four,—
I love so much their style and tone,
One Turner, and no more,
(A landscape,—foreground golden dirt,—
The sunshine painted with a squirt.)

Of books but few,—some fifty score
For daily use, and bound for wear;
The rest upon an upper floor;—
Some little luxury there
Of red morocco’s gilded gleam
And vellum rich as country cream.

Busts, cameos, gems,—such things as these,
Which others often show for pride,
I value for their power to please,
And selfish churls deride;—
One Stradivarius, I confess,
Two Meerschaums, I would fain possess.

Wealth’s wasteful tricks I will not learn,
Nor ape the glittering upstart fool;—
Shall not carved tables serve my turn,
But all must be of buhl?
Give grasping pomp its double share,—
I ask but one recumbent chair.

Thus humble let me live and die,
Nor long for Midas’ golden touch;
If Heaven more generous gifts deny,
I shall not miss them much,—
Too grateful for the blessing lent
Of simple tastes and mind content!

— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.