dinner conversations


    I’m not sure what it is – the pie, the lazy day, my thankful state of mind and heart, the fact that other blogs are posting poems – but I have landed on a couple of great poems this week. Today’s offering comes from another one of my favorites, Mary Oliver. I have posted her poetry previously here, here, and here. I found this one as the Thanksgiving Day post at The Writer’s Almanac.

    Winter and the Nuthatch
    Mary Oliver

    Once or twice and maybe again, who knows,
    the timid nuthatch will come to me
    if I stand still, with something good to eat in my hand.
    The first time he did it
    he landed smack on his belly, as though
    the legs wouldn’t cooperate. The next time
    he was bolder. Then he became absolutely
    wild about those walnuts.

    But there was a morning I came late and, guess what,
    the nuthatch was flying into a stranger’s hand.
    To speak plainly, I felt betrayed.
    I wanted to say: Mister,
    that nuthatch and I have a relationship.
    It took hours of standing in the snow
    before he would drop from the tree and trust my fingers.
    But I didn’t say anything.
    Nobody owns the sky or the trees.
    Nobody owns the hearts of birds.
    Still, being human and partial therefore to my own
    though not resentful of others fashioning theirs—

    I’ll come tomorrow, I believe, quite early.

    This semester we have worked hard to get the restaurant at Duke off the ground. Part of that work for me, besides cooking, has been to get out into the dining room and make some sort of connections with the students who come to eat. I’m pretty good with names, so, over the course of the last couple of months, I’ve managed to remember the names of thirty students or so who are regulars and they know my name (since I’m wearing a name tag.) Reading this poem reminded me that acquaintance and allegiance are not the same things. The connection between us looks different from each side. They are customers to me – people I want to like the food and the place and come back; I am a cook at their college.

    I am planting roots here and they are passing through.

    When I was born, the population of the world was about 2.8 billion people. The world population clock says four billion people have joined our ranks while I’ve been on the planet and it won’t be long before we top 7 billion folks finding their way around the world. Even Kevin Bacon can’t be connected to all of them. The sheer immensity of our population feeds the sense of wonder that grows in me as I read Oliver’s words and imagine the little bird coming down to land on her finger for food, creating a moment in which the enormity of the universe is distilled in the preciseness of the moment. In like manner, the incidental contact that happens over dinner between the students and me carries the same sense of wonder that we could find each other in a world of seven billion people, even for a moment. Still, being human, I think many of those moments are lost on us. We don’t realize our brush with eternity in passing conversation over dinner.

    And, thank God, some days we do.



    1. Exactly how I feel during freshmen orientation each fall and graduation each spring. Lives passing that leave indelible marks. Strings of translucent holy moments.

      Blessings to you, Milton.

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