Thursday

Nov. 24, 2011

Thanksgiving

by Linda McCarriston

Every year we call it down upon ourselves,
the chaos of the day before the occasion,
the morning before the meal. Outdoors,
the men cut wood, fueling appetite
in the gray air, as Nana, Arlene, Mary,
Robin—whatever women we amount to—
turn loose from their wrappers the raw,
unmade ingredients. A flour sack leaks,
potatoes wobble down counter tops
tracking dirt like kids, blue hubbard erupts
into shards and sticky pulp when it's whacked
with the big knife, cranberries leap away
rather than be halved. And the bird, poor
blue thing—only we see it in its dead skin—
gives up for good the long, obscene neck, the gizzard,
the liver quivering in my hand, the heart.

So what? What of it? Besides the laughter,
I mean, or the steam that shades the windows
so that the youngest sons must come inside
to see how the smells look. Besides
the piled wood closing over the porch windows,
the pipes the men fill, the beers
they crack, waiting in front of the game.

Any deliberate leap into chaos, small or large,
with an intent to make order, matters. That's what.
A whole day has passed between the first apple
cored for pie, and the last glass polished
and set down. This is a feast we know how to make,
a Day of Feast, a day of thanksgiving
for all we have and all we are and whatever
we've learned to do with it: Dear God, we thank you
for your gifts in this kitchen, the fire,
the food, the wine. That we are together here.
Bless the world that swirls outside these windows—
a room full of gifts seeming raw and disordered,
a great room in which the stoves are cold,
the food scattered, the children locked forever
outside dark windows. Dear God, grant
to the makers and keepers power to save it all.

"Thanksgiving" by Linda McCarriston, from Talking Soft Dutch. © Texas Tech Press, 1984. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Thanksgiving Day. Although the Thanksgiving festivities celebrated by the Pilgrims and a tribe of Wampanoag Indians happened in 1621, it wasn't until 1789 that the newly sworn-in President George Washington declared, in his first presidential proclamation, a day of national "thanksgiving and prayer" for that November.

The holiday fell out of custom, though, and by the mid 1800s only a handful of states officially celebrated Thanksgiving, on a date of their choice. It was the editor of a women's magazine, Sarah Josepha Hale, a widow and the author of the poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb," who campaigned for a return of the holiday. For 36 years, she wrote articles about the Plymouth colonists in her magazine, trying to revive interest in the subject, and editorials suggesting a national holiday. Hale wrote to four presidents about her idea — Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan — before her fifth letter got notice. In 1863, exactly 74 years after Washington had made his proclamation, President Lincoln issued his own, asking that citizens "in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." He requested prayers especially for those widowed and orphaned by the ongoing Civil War, as well as gratitude for "fruitful fields," enlarging borders of settlements, abundant mines, and a burgeoning population.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson (books by this author) who suggested, "Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude."

In the book On Gratitude, published in 2010, a number of writers take up Emerson's charge, listing some of the specific things that helped them in their writing career — things for which they are grateful. In the book, Kurt Vonnegut (books by this author) said: "I've said it before: I write in the voice of a child. That makes me readable in high school. Simple sentences have always served me well. And I don't use semicolons. It's hard to read anyway, especially for high school kids. Also, I avoid irony. I don't like people saying one thing and meaning the other. Simplicity and sincerity, two things I am grateful for."

John Updike (books by this author) said: "I'm not a movie star or a rock star. I maybe get two or three letters a week out of the blue, for some reason, and as I'm an old guy now, most of the letters are kindly. They do keep you going. This is an unsponsored job. I don't get paid without readers. So I appreciate that enduring fan base. It does keep me going. And for someone to take the time to say they like me. That's a blessing."

Joyce Carol Oates (books by this author) said: "I was only about eight years old when I first read Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and when we're very, very young almost anything that comes into our lives that's special or unique or profound can have the effect of changing us ... I virtually memorized most of Alice ... That blend of the surreal and the nightmare of the quotidian have always stayed with me. My sense of reality has been conditioned by that book, certainly, and I am grateful for it."

Jonathan Safran Foer (books by this author) said: "I'm grateful for anything that reminds me of what's possible in this life. Books can do that. Films can do that. Music can do that. School can do that. It's so easy to allow one day to simply follow into the next, but every once in a while we encounter something that shows us that anything is possible, that dramatic change is possible, that something new can be made, that laughter can be shared."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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