Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Leeks and freckles

Sad news out and about in the world lately, the earth cracking open and the sea heaving up and thousands of people, whole villages, just gone. If we were living in the time before the printing press and the Reformation then we would all go on pilgrimage someplace, leaving our wooden shoes behind and slumping barefoot through the spring mud to some saint's shrine to ask her to intercede, save us, protect us, make it go away. Some of the sad news touches our own family: natural disasters on a smaller scale but disasters nonetheless, disasters that serve in an odd way to point up the larger ones. See how you suffer? That's what it's like, now, elsewhere, for so many people at once. You feel sad and confused and angry that this could have happened, that this did happen? Think about those other people, and how they feel as they sort through the rubble looking for their child's pencil case. These disasters that leave us powerless and angry and sad.

I have no saints to visit barefoot and muddy, but today I chopped leeks and they were so white. The white gave way gradually to the softest of yellows and the yellow to a green that no paint color calling itself spring green could ever match. It was so beautiful that my heart tightened in my chest. All this sadness and I look at G.'s freckles as she bends over her dinner plate, and they are so present, so tangible, and so frail that I have to look away before tears come. Potatoes boiling in salted water: the bubbles are exactly what bubbles want to be, and I find myself staring, reading them for clues. Outside, storms pass and repass over us, but in the distance I can see a boat sailing along under clear skies, and it is like being dropped into a painting.

For years a poem by Marge Piercy, If they come in the night, hung over my desk, but in the taking down of our stateside life I had forgotten it. Today the words came back. She writes: I like my life. If I have to give it back, if they take it from me, let me only not feel I wasted any, let me not feel I forgot to love anyone I meant to love, that I forgot to give what I held in my hands...All this meaningless loss of life makes me sad, but it makes me angry too, an anger whose fierceness takes me by surprise. How can anyone step away, and how awful to be taken away, from a world in which leeks can be so white, freckles so perfect, bubbles so true, ships sailing on a such a sea? I want it all: I want to chop mountains of leeks and watch those freckles age, cook potatoes for everyone I know and watch summers full of ships. I want to sit outside under the stars with people I love, and eat and drink and laugh until I have to catch my breath. What I count, my rubies, my children, are those moments wide open when I know clearly who I am, who you are, what we do, Piercy writes, with all my senses hungry and filled at once like a pitcher with light.

Hungry and filled at once, like a pitcher with light. That is what I would ask my saint for, if I had one: the grace to be like a pitcher that is empty and yet full of light. That could help ride out the sorrow.

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