If You’re Hungry, If You’re Tired
A few days ago a poem by Ellen Bass ended up in my newsfeed thanks to poets.org. The poem is titled “Any Common Desolation” and the line in it that stopped my heart was “You may have to break / your heart, but it isn’t nothing / to know even one moment alive.” Think about how things like desolation, sadness, an imbalance in the universe, even, have a way of sharpening us, too. Our noticing becomes heightened. The sun on flower petals is a shock, then.
So I went to my bookshelf, and found a couple of books by Ellen Bass, and read through the poems I’d dogeared, including this next one.
She has generously posted the following poem on her website.
Pray for Peace
by Ellen Bass
Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.
Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.
Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.
To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.
Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.
Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.
If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.
And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas–
With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.
Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.
Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your VISA card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.
I can get behind the mantra, less harm, less harm, less harm.
I can get behind prayers for water, Shakespeare, Sojourner Truth.
Let’s add some for our favourite living writers and artists.
I can get behind pulling weeds for peace.
If you’re hungry pray, if you’re tired. Give thanks, give thanks, give thanks.
Cherish this world. Cherish, cherish, cherish.
Sometimes it’s just a joyous shock to be alive, in spite of everything, and you can’t help but be alert to leaves and trees, the wild blue of the sky. The daily chores, the work we do, sweeping sand from the sidewalk after all the snow has melted, washing the dishes, wiping the winter from the windows, it all seems to be a gift. Something to cherish, to be thankful for, to pray for. With all this, what else to wish for but less harm, less harm, less harm?