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.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Morning Thanks--A Lenten poem

At Least

a poem by Raymond Carver

I want to get up early one morning,
before sunrise. Before the birds, even.
I want to throw cold water on my face
and be at my work table
when the sky lightens and smoke
begins to rise from the chimneys
of other houses. 

Once upon a time I knew Raymond Carver, had him for a class. Trust me, to my mind--and maybe a few other hardcore folks--that's worth crowing about. Whether I learned anything is another question, but I knew him and have almost every book he ever wrote, including one in which he claims he admired my writing. Just to be sure, I'll show you. 

I think I knew him and his life well enough to know when he wrote "At Least." Observe its reverence.

I want to see the waves break
on this rocky beach, not just hear them
break as I did all night in my sleep.
I want to see again the ships
that pass through the Strait from every
seafaring country in the world—
old, dirty freighters just barely moving along,
and the swift new cargo vessels
painted every color under the sun
that cut the water as they pass.

He may be talking about the Oregon coastline where he lived, but place names don't matter. What he wants to see is ordinary life happening before him. He wants to lose himself in the glory of what's witness-able right before him, before each of us really.

This elegiac poem came up a few weeks ago from Writers Almanac. The almost worshipful attention to detail he claims to want to see and experience was a gift he always had, even in the stories he wrote when his life stumbled through the delirium of too much drink, far too often. Detail made him a good writer.

But he's not thinking about writing. Not at all. He's thinking about life.

I want to keep an eye out for them.
And for the little boat that plies
the water between the ships
and the pilot station near the lighthouse.
I want to see them take a man off the ship
and put another up on board.
I want to spend the day watching this happen
and reach my own conclusions.

What he's hoping to see and experience in the chill morning air is nothing more or less than the rich character of our existence. He wants every thrown glance to be worship. He wants to hear all things as music--not to write but to live.

I hate to seem greedy—have so much
to be thankful for already.
But I want to get up early one more morning, at least.
And go to my place with some coffee and wait.
Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.

When Ray Carver was terminal with his cancer, he came to value life in a way he never had. That's an old story line; he's not the first to bear witness. "At least" is a poem whose title could well be "At Most." What he wants is so very little to be so very much.
It's a religious poem, with no God-talk. It's offers overflowing thanksgiving and asks for a blessing of yet another morning.

I'm still a stranger to lent. It doesn't register in my soul like it seems to so many others. But Carver's "At Least" feels like real lenten meditation, asking God almighty this morning and every morning to be blessed by nothing more than what's already all around.


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