Compressed Attention

One of my favorite poems that I didn’t write is “The Art of Blessing the Day” by Marge Piercy. It is framed in a way that uses some of the language of religion to talk about the beauty of the thing-ness of our lives and the events that don’t automatically get celebrated formally. It is in fact about poetry itself, in the widest sense, which is the sense I much prefer to the very narrow sense we get taught in school.

 

The Art of Blessing the Day

 

This is the blessing for rain after drought:
Come down, wash the air so it shimmers,
a perfumed shawl of lavender chiffon.
Let the parched leaves suckle and swell.
Enter my skin, wash me for the little
chrysalis of sleep rocked in your plashing.
In the morning the world is peeled to shining.

This is the blessing for sun after long rain:
Now everything shakes itself free and rises.
The trees are bright as pushcart ices.
Every last lily opens its satin thighs.
The bees dance and roll in pollen
and the cardinal at the top of the pine
sings at full throttle, fountaining.

This is the blessing for a ripe peach:
This is luck made round. Frost can nip
the blossom, kill the bee. It can drop,
a hard green useless nut. Brown fungus,
the burrowing worm that coils in rot can
blemish it and wind crush it on the ground.
Yet this peach fills my mouth with juicy sun.

This is the blessing for the first garden tomato:
Those green boxes of tasteless acid the store
sells in January, those red things with the savor
of wet chalk, they mock your fragrant name.
How fat and sweet you are weighing down my palm,
warm as the flank of a cow in the sun.
You are the savor of summer in a thin red skin.

This is the blessing for a political victory:
Although I shall not forget that things
work in increments and epicycles and sometime
leaps that half the time fall back down,
let’s not relinquish dancing while the music
fits into our hips and bounces our heels.
We must never forget, pleasure is real as pain.

The blessing for the return of a favorite cat,
the blessing for love returned, for friends’
return, for money received unexpected,
the blessing for the rising of the bread,
the sun, the oppressed. I am not sentimental
about old men mumbling the Hebrew by rote
with no more feeling than one says gesundheit.

But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.

Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.

***

I think Piercy gets to the heart of the matter when she says:

The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.
The work of the poet (not unlike one of the tasks of the lover) is to pay attention to the details. God is in the details. We have only to look, and we have to look. We look at everything outside ourselves, and then, if we dare, we can start to look at all the things that are inside ourselves, and then we look out again.

And then we write.

Marge Piercy. The Art of Blessing the Day. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1999.

2 comments on “Compressed Attention

  1. “in the morning the world is peeled to shining”

    Perfect. I will pay attention to this tomorrow morning when I wake. It’s raining in California. the blessing after the drought.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. PJS says:

    Morning’s at seven;
    The hillside’s dew-pearled;
    The lark’s on the wing;
    The snail’s on the thorn:
    God’s in His heaven —
    All’s right with the world! –Robert Browning

    Like

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