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An old poetry professor of mine always used to say that one great thing about poems is that, so often, you get a poem before you really understand it. It resonates when you haven't anticipated it to, or creates a stillness where there wasn't one before. It can make you feel reflective. And doesn't Thanksgiving, a whole holiday dedicated to reflection and thoughtfulness and being with others, do the same thing?
Read these poems while you're traveling, or between turkey bastings, or share them around the table, or use one for a toast, or say them aloud if grace isn't your thing. Some of them are about Thanksgiving, some of them are about thanksgiving, and some of them float around the holiday's edges—these poems are as sometimes-idyllic, sometimes-painful, sometimes-wacky, sometimes-touching, as Thanksgiving is:
"Family Reunion" by Maxine Kumin
Benign and dozy from our gluttonies,
the candles down to stubs, defenses down,
love leaking out unguarded the way
juice dribbles from the fence when grounded
by grass stalks or a forgotten hoe,
how eloquent, how beautiful you seem!
"In Harvest" by Sophie Jewitt
A goldfinch dangles from a tall,
Full-flowered yellow mullein; all
The world seems turning blue and gold.
"Thanksgiving for Two" by Marjorie Saiser
We are the feast, plenty of years,
arguments. I’m thinking the whole bundle of it
rolls out like a white tablecloth.
"Aimless Love" by Billy Collins
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
"Butter" by Elizabeth Alexander
...When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter.
"Thanksgiving" by Tim Nolan
(whatever they are)—wrapped up as
small gifts inside the cavern of the ribs—
thanks—thanks—thanks—for the candles
- "Oysters" by Seamus Heaney
The frond-lipped, brine-stung
Glut of privilege
And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from sea.
"Onions" by William Matthews
How easily happiness begins by
"Thanks" by W.S. Merwin
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
"The Traveling Onion" by Naomi Shihab Nye
When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
"Perfect for Any Occasion" by Alberto Rios
I tell you everything is great, says a pie,
Great, and fun, and fine.
And you smell nice, too, someone says.
"Potato Soup" by Daniel Nyikos
I set up my computer and webcam in the kitchen
so I can ask my mother’s and aunt’s advice
as I cook soup for the first time alone.
"The Bean Eaters" by Gwendolyn Brooks
Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
"Home is so Sad" by Philip Larkin
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.
"Eating the Bones" by Ellen Bass
They use up love, they swallow
every dark grain,
so at the end there’s nothing left,
a scant pile of splinters
on the empty white plate.
Share your favorite Thanksgiving poems, verses, songs, and stories in the comments!