MY FATHER'S LUNCH
he'd sit at the kitchen table
in khakis and a workshirt.
White napkin, a beer, the serrated knife.
Pieces of prosciutto or headcheese
or kippered herring
layered on slabs of black bread.
Outside, the ripe hayfields
or the stacks of shutters
or the forest needing to be cleared
or the snow needing to be pushed aside
lay still as they waited for him
to finish his lunch.
For now he was ours,
whether he smelled of chokecherry,
tractor oil, or twine.
He'd washed his hands
with brown naphtha soap
and splashed water onto his face
and shaken it off like a dog.
He'd offer more ham, more bread
to anyone who sat down.
This was work, too,
but he did it slowly, with no impatience,
not yet reminding the older boys
that he'd need them later
or asking the smaller children
if we'd stored the apples
or shoved last year's hay
out of the wonderful window
This was the interlude
of nearly translucent slices,
of leaning back in the smooth wooden chair
and wiping white foam from his lip
as the last beads of beer rose calmly
to the surface of the glass.
We could see it was an old meal
with the patina of dream
going back to the first days
of bread and meat and work.
All our lives, my brothers,
my sister, and I will eat
this same meal, savoring
its provisional peace,
like the peace in the grain room
after we'd scooped the grain
from the bins, and the sticky oats
and the agitated flakes of bran
had slipped back down into the soft valleys
where they would remain
until it was time to feed the animals again.
— Erica Funkhouser, from Pursuit: Poems (Houghton Mifflin)
If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life,
it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
~ George Eliot