Wednesday, February 03, 2010

plucking the fruit

O   T A S T E   A N D   S E E
Denise Levertov

The world is
not with us enough.
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination's tongue,

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry, and plucking
the fruit.

* * *

The first stanza of Levertov's poem has been coming to mind often lately, perhaps because I've been riding the subway more often, or--more likely--because Lent is coming.

I hum the hymn from Presanctified liturgy, and remember the packed line for communion at the service I used to attend at the seminary. I was hungry and cranky at those liturgies, and only left my work toward the end of the service; I was better able to manage hunger if I was working than praying. When I arrived, the chapel narthex would be packed with other stragglers. We would be down on our knees, and then up again, then down. All the students seemed to smell of garlic. I dreaded the awkwardness of kneeling down on the ground with so many cassocked men, pressed together, someone always getting a shoe in the face. My mind, as usual, unable to shut off its constant thinking. But then it was time to take presanctified communion, and those of us packed together in the back would slowly move into the heat and light of the sanctuary, and to the commotion of the children. And the choir would be singing "O taste and see, O taste and see that the Lord is good!"

But I no longer work next to a chapel with daily services. I may not make it to Presanctified at all this Lent, as the service lasts past Isaiah's bedtime. But I savor the thought of it, and the memory of those mostly unappreciated liturgies at the seminary: that small, sincere world, surrounded by friends. Crossing the street, plum, quince / living in the orchard and being / hungry, and plucking / the fruit.


amber said...

I realized after posting this that I'm supposed to post a poem about love and friendship. Whoops! My excuse is really that my internet has been down for a few days and when I finally got it running again this evening, I didn't look too long at the enanosilvo site before posting. I promise to do better next time!

Molly Sabourin said...

Greetings, Amber!

I've seen some of your beautiful design work (via Jenny Schroedel). I totally loved it.

Thank you for sharing a poem - this poem, in particular. I appreciated your memories that accompanied it of those packed pre-sanctified Liturgies at seminary. I like how you wove the crudeness of that experience (empty bellies, the smell of garlic on skin, a shoe in the face) right in with the holiness (the heat and light of the sanctuary, the commotion of children, the singing of, "O Taste and See...") of your tight knit community gathering together to receive the Eucharist. I will think of your poem this Lent while feeling my stomach growl, shushing my kids, smelling the incense and opening my mouth to partake of the body and blood of Christ.

I look forward to reading more of your posts!

Thanks again!

Kris Livovich said...

Hi Amber, thanks for posting! Your poem does not have to be about love - it was just a last minute thing I threw out there as an inspiration if any one else didn't have a poem yet. I will be attempting to do the love thing all month, it shouldn't be too hard to find four poems, I hope.

What a beautiful poem, perfect for Lent.

Beth said...

Hi Amber. A lovely poem followed up with some beautiful imagery. I too loved that "everyone smelled like garlic." Those presanctified liturgies are some of my favorite services- so dark, so solemn, so haunting, and so many ups and downs while praying for God's mercy. Thank you for the images. Just remembering my own past experiences brings quiet joy to my heart.

Julia said...

Your description of presanctified at the seminary is so effective in helping me remember exactly how it felt. It was such a sensory experience--almost overwhelmingly so. And although I can remember that awkwardness of trying to do full prostrations in that crowded space and the bottoms of shoes and the discomfort of an empty stomach and the overall irritation and crummy thoughts that went through my head, what really stands out in my memory is the warm singing and light and beauty. It seems paradoxical that at this time of year-- Great Lent (and its approach)-- the senses do feel heightened and stirred, even though we are fasting and placing limitations on our relationship with the material world. I'd never really put this into words for myself but now you've helped me put it together with this poem and your thoughts. Thank you for this!