The family table is, for many, the heartbeat of the home. The ritual of setting the table offers a small piece of real estate for each person. This is your plate, because you matter. Utensils, a napkin, and cup are placed before your seat because you are loved. You belong here.
The family table is also the place where homework is completed, bills are paid, card games are played, where arguments flair, and forgiveness is expressed. Hearts are broken and mended here. Whatever the shape of the table— we are nourished within its geometry. A table is much more than just a place to eat.
Poet Joy Harjo invites us to witness life at humanity’s table:
Perhaps the World Ends Here
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation,
and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their
knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at
it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with
us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together
once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place
to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of
the last sweet bite.
—by Joy Harjo
Try it: Family Table Poems
Write a poem about your family table. It could be the table of your childhood or the one within the walls of your home today. Think of the memories created where family gathers: Decisions made. Joyous announcements. Dreaded family meetings. Laughing till your sides hurt. Holding hands and shedding tears. You can also write a poem from the perspective of the table. It has seen quite a lot. Maybe it’s a brand new table, ready to start making memories. What about an old table, waiting to be sold at a yard sale? There are numerous possibilities, each unique.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. We dabbed our eyes with tissue as we read poems dedicated to the family ties of motherhood. Here is a heart-melting poem from Prasanta:
The Longing Arms
filled now and spilling
when arms hold
and hush the
long anticipated one-
sweet love requited.
Did I know
how empty they were-
my arms, heart-
You laughed at the emptiness
and swallowed it whole.
…of the wind
she is, a soft kiss
the eyes and face of those with
thin, motherless arms.
—by Prasanta Verma
Photo by James McCauley. Creative Commons via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland