“I have a poem to read before we eat,” I told my sister, Sierra, as we were searching for bright plastic Easter eggs filled with candy. The little children had finished their egg hunt in the front yard already. Now, we grown “kids” were running around the back yard looking for treasure.
“Did you write it?” Sierra asked, knowing that I do that occasionally.
“No, it’s a poem by Wendell Berry,” I said.
“Dingleberry?” my sister-in-law, Stacy, asked, joining us for the end of the conversation. “What’s this about a dingleberry?”
“Not dingleberry,” I said. “Wendell Berry.”
They both cracked up laughing.
“I brought a poem by WENDELL Berry to read before we eat,” I said, clarifying.
“Oh, that’s better. I wondered why you were talking about dingleberries,” she said. Both women laughed again.
“WENDELL Berry,” I repeated, slowly. “I was just trying to bring a little culture to our family,” I said, feigning disgust. Little did I know.
As we headed back toward the house, they explained to me that “dingleberry” is a slang word for a “small clot of dung clinging to the hindquarters of an animal.” At least, that’s how dictionary.com described it. If only my sisters had been so dignified.
“I thought it was just a nonsense word,” I said, embarrassed.
“Nope,” Sierra said. “It’s a real word.”
On behalf of my whole family, my apologies to Mr. Wendell Berry.
I had spent a good deal of time thinking about what, if anything, I should say or read to my family on Easter Sunday. We would come to the table with a variety of thoughts and opinions about why we were gathered there that day. No one would object to a prayer. But would a prayer startle them? A small speech about newness might set the wrong tone. I wasn’t trying to persuade them of anything.
I just had this sense of gratitude – for Spring, for family, for life – that I wanted to wrap them all in, despite the grief and struggle that make up too much of our days. Poetry alone would have the subtlety to communicate that, to startle them all into hearing.
“When despair for the world grows in me,” Mr. Berry’s poem, The Peace of Wild Things began. I knew it was right.
When the kitchen counter was filled with bowls of potato salad and plates of grilled burgers, after the potato chip bags were opened and the tomato slices laid out next to the buns, my dad gathered us.
“Charity has a poem she wants to read,” he announced.
With no further introduction, I read to them of despair and fear, of the wood drake and the great heron. I described a laying down and a looking up. The poem ended with the word “free,” and we all stood quiet for a few seconds.
Then the laughter began again, along with the retelling of the dingleberry confusion and my insistence that this family needed a little more panache. We loaded plates and filled cups. Toddlers ran squealing through the house, hungry but refusing to eat.
And I rested again in the peace of wild things.
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.
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