The Heavenly Feast

By Gjertrud Schnackenberg b. 1953 Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Simone Weil, 1909-1943

Only the stones at first
Seem to have a part in this,
And the little height of the grass
As it gains a fraction-inch

By gripping the shallow soil
With all the shocking might
Of hunger and of thirst,
As if the soil itself

Were all that's left on earth.
I think the grass alone
Can hold within its grasp
What matters to it most,

And still it looks bereft,
And famished as the stones.
I watch a stream of moths
Proceeding on their ways,

They carve out tortuous paths
As if they were intent
On entering unseen
And ever-smaller doors.

So four years into the war,
And cut off from the ones
Whose circumstance you felt
And suffering as yours,

You carved yourself a path
Through ever-narrowing doors
Of hunger and of thirst,
And entered them day by day,

Refusing all at first
But that ration of food
Your people could obtain
Behind the lines in France,

And then refusing that,
From summer into fall
You cut your ration back
To send your part to them,

Your part diminishing
To rations cut in half
And cut in half again,
And then nothing at all

But water at the last
Sipped for the nurse's sake,
You finally lacked the strength
Even to lift your hands:

Father, I cannot stand
To think of them and eat.
Send it to them, it is theirs.
Send this food for them,

For my people still in France.
And turned your face away,
As famished as the grass.
Only the stones at first

Seem to have a part in this,
And the little height of the grass
As it gains a fraction-inch.
But hidden in the grass

As if the grass itself
Were giving out a cry,
I overhear the finch
Begin her native rhyme

And toil to paraphrase
Her version of your words.
It seems she tries and tries
Until the words come clear,

It is theirs, she seems to say,
Or that is what I hear,
And again: It is theirs, it is theirs.
And the plover joins in praise

With her fluttering, murmured prayers:
Send it to them, it is theirs.
And the blackbirds breaking wide
Take it up in their dialects

To sing you in their way,
I swear I can hear the words,
Send it to them, they say,
Send it to them, it is theirs,

Then all the birds of the air
Give thanks above your grave,
As if they were your cause
And those you meant to save,

As if the birds were there
In attendance at the end,
And, seeing the sacrifice
Had borne your body up,

So wasted as it was,
To your chair in Paradise,
And saw, before they fled,
Your first breathtaking act

Before the heavenly feast,
The bread set at your place:
To refuse to eat till none
On earth has less than you,

Though God in pity take
Your hands and lift them toward
His table for your sake.
Father, they have no food,

Send it to them, it is theirs.
And the birds returning here
Give tongue to what they've heard,
They tell the grass and stones

And the stream of moths who carve
Their tortuous paths in the air.
But how in giving thanks
Can we calculate the worth

Of one who chose to starve?
You held within your grasp
Our hunger and our thirst.
And the little height of the grass

As it gains a fraction-inch
Seems to have a part in this.
It grips with a shocking might
What matters to the last,

As if the soil itself
Were all that's left on earth,
And all the earth were held
Within its famished grasp.

Gjertrud Schnackenberg, "The Heavenly Feast" from Supernatural Love: Poems 1976-1992. Copyright © 2000 by Gjertrud Schnackenberg. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved.

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Source: Supernatural Love: Poems 1976-1992 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000)

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Poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg b. 1953

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Life Choices, Nature, Religion, Christianity, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

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 Gjertrud  Schnackenberg

Biography

Gjertrud Schnackenberg was born in 1953 in Tacoma, Washington. She began writing poetry as a student at Mount Holyoke College and as an undergraduate earned a reputation as a poetic prodigy, twice winning the Glascock Award for Poetry. Her first two books of poetry, Portraits and Elegies (1982) and The Lamplit Answer (1985), established her as one of the strongest of the New Formalists and confirmed her early promise. Reviewing . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Life Choices, Nature, Religion, Christianity, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

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