A favorite poem: Thanksgiving

I love double entendre, those opportunities of language when double meaning takes a word or phrase a second mile. I’m thinking of this post’s title like that, in two ways. The first is to give you an opportunity to write a Thanksgiving poem courtesy of one of Poets&Writers online writing prompts from The Time Is Now that you can sign up at their website to receive yourself. The prompt I’ll share is

Poem of Gratitude

“To mark the holiday this week, make a list of things you’re grateful for. Beneath each item, free-associate a list of objects. Pick ten from your lists of objects and use them to write a poem.”

Give it a try, and as I tell my students, play! Perhaps you’ll end up with a cherished holiday poem or perhaps you’ll simply have a good time remembering how thankful you really are, even if your gratitude doesn’t include writing a poem of gratitude.

Every November I wish I had a Thanksgiving poem that I’d written to read across the table. So far the muse’s lips are zipped. But if I’m asked to read something, my go-to poem for the holiday is former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins’ “Osso Buco.” Notice how the poem begins and ends with bone, and moves from the plate to table to kitchen and finally to bed, where all happy Thanksgivings finally take us.

May you find yourself in a place of gratitude tomorrow and in the days to come. This, then, is my second meaning of the post’s title, my own favorite poem for the feast.

Osso Buco

I love the sound of the bone against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto,
the meat soft as the leg of an angel
who has lived a purely airborne existence.
And best of all, the secret marrow,
the invaded privacy of the animal
prized out with a knife and swallowed down
with cold, exhilarating wine.

I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach–
something you don’t hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
you know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter.

But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance
and the sound of my wife’s laughter
on the telephone in the next room,
the woman who cooked the savory osso buco,
who pointed to show the butcher the ones she wanted.
She who talks to her faraway friend
while I linger here at the table
with a hot, companionable cup of tea,
feeling like one of the friendly natives,
a reliable guide, maybe even the chief’s favorite son.

Somewhere, a man is crawling up a rocky hillside
on bleeding knees and palms, an Irish penitent
carrying the stone of the world in his stomach;
and elsewhere people of all nations stare
at one another across a long, empty table.

But here, the candles give off their warm glow,
the same light that Shakespeare and Izaac Walton wrote by,
the light that lit and shadowed the faces of history.
Only now it plays on the blue plates,
the crumpled napkins, the crossed knife and fork.

In a while, one of us will go up to bed
and the other will follow.
Then we will slip below the surface of the night
into miles of water, drifting down and down
to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock,
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know.

Billy Collins,
The Art of Drowning

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate



Filed under Favorite Poem, Laureate's News

3 responses to “A favorite poem: Thanksgiving

  1. Kelly Cressio-Moeller

    Beautiful poem – thanks for sharing it, Sally. Happy Thanksgivine!

  2. Joanne Gallagher

    Thanks, Sally and a happy Thanksgiving to you! Joanne JTG


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