Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


a year of morning thanks
and now and then
a day or two of supplication

The Human Voice

This morning's Writer's Almanac poem just bears repeating.

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe

by Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said
"Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'")
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love
and I'm sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?

Ms. Alexander certainly does sound like a teacher--and a preacher. I know. This morning's class has a menu of three stories from Best American Short Stories, three stories that are quite unthrilling. I'm ready to walk into class, not with an apology but an assertion--we may not have a class like this all year long again, three stories that are so unengaging, which is not to say that some kid in class might not have been thrilled by something in those sixty pages.

But what Ms. Alexander says is what I'll likely say too, because what we're reading is, as she says, "the human voice," and that's nothing to shake a stick at--"And are we not of interest to each other?"

Really, aren't we?

Here's a poem the writer sent me last weekend.

Cradleboard

i want the cradleboard
he said.i paid for it, it's
from my reservation.

you got the kid. want to
trade, i reply. he says
nothing and walks away.

likely devising a plan to
get said cradleboard,
perhaps by witholding

promised support, or
just taking it. but i have
a claim to it too, over a

decade ago, swaddling
my apache and binding
her in the ceremonial

yellow thongs. she howled
at first, restrictive as it was
but it is, tradition. and i

put her in it, as i was told.
still her downy hairs line
the inside. i prominently

display this saffron yellow
beaded cradleboard
wherever we live. even

found a doll-sized match
which was to be for her
never arrived sibling

so she could have a baby
doll in a cradleboard, but
it was not meant to be.

so i carry them, the greater
and lesser boards, both
made at san carlos

and he wants them now
the only thing he has said
i could not have. though

i've taken the drum and
feather, the gourd, and
now the cradleboard

he has her.

Breaks my heart. I know her, have for several years. We met at a retreat. She writes voluminously and reads her work in a manner that conjures up her own Native identity, the poem itself become a dance. I've likely read more of her poetry in the last few years than any one else's.

And now it's come to this.

"Cradleboard" would be sad enough if it were fiction. But it's not. The story she tells is her own. Her marriage is over. Their little girl chose to stay with her father. Her faith, she says, went with them.

Are we not of interest to each other?

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