by James Crews
I know it’s summer when we wade out
into the field and pick these crisp wonders,
tiny cucumbers bleached of their green
as if they’ve already seen too much
of this dazzling light, and can take no more.
We eat them sprinkled with salt and pepper,
as their name suggests, crunching through
flesh so sweet it’s like that of a melon.
I’ve never seen them for sale in grocery stores,
but they grow here in this soil out of which
my husband could coax almost anything
with his sure touch and sharp attention.
He snaps them from stems with flowers still
shriveled at the ends, then hands them to me
like the gifts they are, and I take each one
into the bowl of my hands, a wandering monk
finally at home among rolling mountains
swaddled in trees, and stones heaved up
as round as eggs from sandy loam. So much
already alive between us, so many blessings
threading our days like the gold of sun,
yet here I stand, holding this bounty,
begging for more.
Originally published on Gratefulness.org
I stood with my husband in the dusty fields after a long day of work, late sunlight slanting over us as he picked several of the small salt-and-pepper cucumbers we love in our salads. Summer is such a delicious time, but that evening I was feeling especially the “great fullness” of gratefulness for my life as I collected the cucumbers he handed me “like the gifts they are.” Gratitude takes work, and a constant vigilance to be sure we’re not rejecting our present moments, robbing ourselves of the abundance at hand. We cannot be thankful for everything that happens, of course, nor for all the terrible things that go on in our world. Yet the Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast urges us to ask each “given moment,” whether pleasant or unpleasant, what it might have to teach us.
There will always be reasons to complain and despair, if we look for them. I might reject my experience of living on a farm in the country, for instance, because of how “boring” it seems, or I might complain about the tractors rumbling through the fields near our house, churned-up stones rattling in the rock-picker as I’m trying to have a quiet morning. For a time, I did, in fact, focus too much on such negatives, but I am always learning to turn my mind toward the light of what’s right in my life, instead of what I think is wrong. This poem is a direct result of that kind of loving attention paid to every detail of the present, and to something as plain and simple as those “crisp wonders” we picked together on a summer night I will never forget. I no longer want to be that “wandering monk,” once so afraid to commit to a place, so afraid to be intimate with another person that he ran away from experiences instead of toward them. Gratitude, after all, is nothing less than a deep intimacy with the moment and whatever it might contain.