Thanksgiving Suite #4

The Very last of the Thanksgiving Suite

Part 1

I was born
In 1896
I sent a message to the future
To my first-born grandson
If he remembers
After I have gone
If I live.

I might have written the message on a scrap piece of paper
With a chewed pencil
Left it for the future in a wooden box.

I might have written the message into a journal
[I didn’t keep a journal]
I might have prayed it in the synagogue
A spiritual creation lurking between the suns
Until the time was
For delivery
[I didn’t pray].

I sent it through the post.

Part 2

Grandfather sent me a message
Into the future
On the night of Thanksgiving
He sent it in the least likely way
He who always tended me well
When I was a boy.

I stood in a doorway on this particular Thanksgiving
And told a story about my Grandfather
And just as I came to the punch line
It was the story how Grandfather had rescued me —

I received a text message
Something for me only he said
He sent it text message.

I was least expecting a message, at all
But a text message was so clever
Long after his departure
His voice returns to me.

I carry his voice with me always,
But this —
The name he called me that was reserved for him
The expression he sent by text which only he said
The way he filled me up when I depleted.

I love you enough, he taught me,
When you are diminished
You may take from me,

I love you enough —
When you are partial
You may fill from me,

I love you that much —
When you feel less
You may draw from me
I am more,

And I have been created to be your grandfather
And you have been created to be
My grandson.

You may live all your lives this way,

Now —
Don’t forget what we are
For each other.
There is no shame in need
To be whole.

Thanksgiving, 2008

Thanksgiving Suite #3

What Turkey-Merchants Want

The turkey-merchant wants to do something right,
thinking —
maybe this can help me.

He wants to be filled up.
The turkey-merchant wants most
to feel significant,
he wants to be remembered as having

He sees someone bagging groceries at the store
late one night —
there is one grateful man,
thinks the turkey-merchant.

He sees the grocery bagger another night. . .
soon the turkey-merchant goes back to the store
whenever he needs a reminder,
watches the man bag groceries.

One night he feels the opportunity —
I’ve been watching you, says the turkey-merchant,
what makes you so content?

I used to steal from this store
says the grocery bagger,
now I work here —
now I am giving something back.

There is nowhere
I would rather be right now —
than here,

Says the grocery bagger.
He looks at the turkey-merchant to see if he understands
thinking –

Maybe you should be working here.

jsg, usa

Thanksgiving Suite #2

Two Thanks-giving Stories

There was a contest on the radio. Write or speak your gratitude on this Thanksgiving. What are you grateful for? the radio announcer asked. Send in your story.

I heard the winners. It was a tie. Two women, one from California, one from Massachusetts.

First, the woman from California spoke. She was a sheep rancher in California. Her father before her worked the ranch. The ranch had been in her family for several generations.

She was, I imagine, a woman in her late forties. Her husband now also worked the ranch, along with her eighty year old father. They all lived right there on the ranch.

She spoke of the difficulties in running such an enterprise these days. The cost of harvesting and processing the wool is for the first time greater than what it can be sold for, in addition to which there has been five years of drought in her area. “There’s dust in everything,” she said, “and the grazing land is parched and cracked,” her flocks thin and diminished, her father old and tired, herself and her husband frustrated.

I waited for the punch line. What was she grateful for on this Thanksgiving? I wondered.

The night before telling her story, she said, it rained. It rained an inch and a half. The dust liquified back into the earth, the earth smoothed and healed off some of its cracks, but this was not the source of her gratitude. Certainly all the difficulties of running a sheep ranch in these days were not solved by an inch and a half of rain. This was a bonus, a sign, perhaps, a clue, but not a solution, not even a temporary one, it may have been a joke: God writes straight with crooked lines. Rain, as if that would make a difference.

What was she grateful for had to do with her tired 80 year old father who has seen so many seasons come and go on the ranch, something to do with herself and her husband working the family ranch scouting the sky week after week, month after month, year after year for rain. It had to do with the shared judgment about their business which is fragile, outdated, bound up with the shared destiny of one family, one plot of land, one generation after another, being in that thing together, the tenderness as she described her father waddling into the farmhouse after a long day of work, and the brave possibility that the ranch would yet turn a profit somehow. Another season. The possibility, the hope of a future, measured not only in rain but in the dignity of these human beings who hope, who imagine it working, again, for the sacred possibility of the future — hope, hope, hope. Hope sustains, everything is possible when you have hope.

The second woman tied for first prize in the radio contest. She was from Massachusetts, a Jewish woman I imagined, from her name, from her brand of humor. She was very funny. About the same age as the other woman, late forties. This was her story: It has been almost a year since he died, she began, and still she hasn’t set up a tombstone for him. It was a marriage no one thought would work — he had been married 3 times previous, she several times herself. Neither looking to get married ever again, they met. Against all advice, against their own better judgment and plans for living, they married anyway. Out of the chaos of two lives and ex-wives and kids and step kids and recriminations they found deep love, love that outlasted the complexities of their lives, and calmed them, tamed them both.

She spoke her story touchingly, funny, sad. A year after they married, he was diagnosed with a terrible cancer, given not much hope for even another year. He lived six, living with cancer, with dignity and joy and living more deeply than ever before because everything was so precious. Every moment.

Now he was gone. She was broke. Public aid in Massachusetts had all but dried up. She had not been able to find full time work, she was substitute teaching in Boston. What was she grateful for? I was waiting to hear.

This: first, many friends. They called her regularly and invited her to meals, she usually declined but loved the invitations. Someone brought over a load of firewood to heat her wood burning stove as winter came on. She was grateful because she had felt her heart unlock to life so freely that it would never close again, the great gift of love that changed her permanently.

The last thing she said: I’m alone, broke, but not unhappy, not in the least afraid. As a matter of fact, I’m rather content, she said, because I believe something, my little way of thinking about things, that may sound wacky but I really believe this —

I think of him as if he has gone away somewhere ahead of me, as if to find the perfect apartment, you know something near a bookstore, where there is a cafe that serves fresh raspberries all year round. He has gone there ahead of me to find the perfect place for us, she said. I am as certain of this as I am of anything: we will meet again, and because I believe this, I am full of gratitude this Thanksgiving, content and not at all afraid of the future. Everything is possible when you believe in something.

These are the two American stories of gratitude that I heard on the radio just before Thanksgiving.

I listened and then I wrote my own tale of gratitude. It had to do, like the ones I had heard, with health, and loving somebody, with what I believe gets me through the long nights, with a vague sense of possibility, that everything is going to be all right, of hope, I suppose, that accompanies all our lives like a sense of something fine arriving from the distance, something good, hope, that’s it.

In the distance, it’s God you are discerning, or nature, or whatever it is you believe in that animates your life. This is what you are hearing bearing down on you:

be grateful, it’s going to work out, somehow —
It’s going to be just fine.

james stone goodman
united states of america

Thanksgiving Suite #1

For the Sake of Heaven
Eat Turkey

A discourse on language and food, celebration and birds

We have a refrain in the Psalms, Hodu L’Adonai Ki Tov (Psalm 118), Give thanks to God for God is good, followed by Ki L’Olam Chasdo, For God’s mercy is everlasting. This may be the best known refrain from our beloved song/poems, known to the Greeks as the Songs (Psalms from Psalmoi = songs), known to us as Praises (Tehillim).

Hodu in that refrain is an imperative built from a verb form: Give thanks or be thankful, related to the Hebrew todah, for thank you. Hodu is the imperative, plural – give thanks [all of you], for God is good.

Hodu is also the Hebrew for turkey, the bird.

It’s also the Hebrew not for the country Turkey, but for India. This is common in many other languages. For example, in French turkey the bird is dinde (f), dindon (m), which is derived from d’Inde, from India. There must have been some sense that turkey, the bird, came from India.

But the bird we call a turkey is native to America. Somehow it must have been associated with the country Turkey, at least with the eastern Mediterranean.

The wild bird we call a turkey is not the only bird called a turkey. Since the mid sixteenth century, turkey is also the name given to the guinea-fowl. The guinea-fowl is native to Africa, and was brought to Europe through – Turkey, by traders known as turkey-merchants.

I come from a long line of turkey-merchants, by the way, to call me a turkey-merchant is no insult, it is a matter of pride. Don’t call me a turkey either, unless you know the history of the word.

The English thought the bird came from Turkey, nearly everybody else in the world associated the bird with India. Even in Turkey, they call the bird hindi, coming from Hindistan, Turkish for India. In Yiddish, a turkey is a hendika hen, Indian hen, and in modern Hebrew tarnagol hodu, Indian chicken.

When the Europeans came to America, they saw the similarity between the American bird and the guinea-fowl that had been imported from Turkey, so they called the American bird turkey as well.

Why was the bird associated with India? It may be because it is also indigenous to Mexico, which was known as the Spanish Indies or the New Indies. Maybe the languages associated the bird with the New India, which is in Latin America.

This gets better. There is another, minority theory, about the origin of the word turkey for that goofy looking bird. In some circles, the word is credited to Luis de Torres, who was a Jew (converted, that is, because he had to) the interpreter for Christopher Columbus. Luis de Torres had a background in Biblical Hebrew. He saw the bird and called it a tooki, which was corrupted into turkey. A tooki is Hebrew for a parrot, which no doubt is the origin of all those great Jewish parrot jokes.

Of course, the whole Thanksgiving feast concept is based on a Biblical model, see Deuteronomy 26: 1-3. When you have come into the land, you shall take the first fruits of the ground which you harvest and give thanks.

Hodu L’Adonai Ki Tov
Give thanks to God, for God is good, or as we now know:
[Eating] turkey [for the sake of] God
is good.

jsg, usa
jewish vegetarian

Basketball in the White House

Basketball in the White House

There will be basketball in the White House
Basketball is a fast game
A fluid game
Basketball is a quick American game
A finesse game
It takes a natural skill
The White House will be full of basketball players
For the first time.

All the world loves basketball
It’s an American game
Nobody plays basketball like we Americans
Play basketball.

It was in the beginning an outside game
Taken inside —
A peach basket with the bottom cut out nailed onto a pole
Elevated ten feet high over an indoor track.

It’s a game of integration
Spiritual physical
Inside outside
Skill and grace
You can learn it
But not excel at it
Without a natural gift.

Basketball is a soothing game
When played alone
And elegant when played in a team.

There’s a healing in playing basketball —
Let the healing begin.

Football turns on the physics of force
Baseball is wonderful but methodical and generally unspontaneous
Only basketball’s essence is beauty
A body in basketball is capable of illogical movement and grace
Its lure is essentially esthetic
Like ballet
There will be basketball in the White House.

Our President-elect walks like a basketball player
I am a basketball player
And I always go to the Court
For more than sport.

jsg, usa

November 4, 2008, I voted today

Prayer After Voting

I voted
O holy God, I voted,
I felt good voting.
I honored my predecessors —
My grandparents, my parents of blessed memory —
Knowing, for them,
Was an ascendant experience.
They had complete confidence in our country
To provide opportunity for us
Their children
— That they did not have.

That is a matter of memory
Because I have had all opportunity,
But their stories reminded me that they
Did not.

I voted with the intention to honor them.
This year I voted from frustration too.

I voted against negativist language
Stiff, formal, not believeable —
The handlers pushing fear in our country
When I want to vote for hope.

I voted for hope.
I voted for a deeper level of discourse
For a lower timbre of speech
Don’t yell at me pundits and politicians
And don’t think I am so easily played.
You couldn’t reach me with your strategies —
This year your strategies were transparent
And I turned off your voices
When they weren’t honest voices.

The problem is always discernment –
This year it was easy.
I know the truth when I hear it.
I voted out of discernment.

I voted for hope
I voted with the intention of honoring
Those who voted before me
During periods of higher expectations.

O holy God, I voted for higher expectations
Purification of purpose
Real talk from real people.

Politicos — don’t sweet talk me.
I’ll vote again.

james stone goodman
united states of america