The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
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.
This title may seem apocalyptic given the current state of world affairs but this poem was published in 1994 (since June 2019, Harjo has been the first native American U.S. poet laureate). This one has been on my mind even before the virus erupted, for its touching and universal imagery of the beauty of humanity.
No matter what, we must eat to live. Who can argue with this? And to say The world begins at a kitchen table seems a reasonable association to make, does it not? Since time out of mind, The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. Can you picture your own first family kitchen table? Mine was scuffed pine, painted turquoise, my mother’s favourite colour. What foods nourished you there?
Harjo recalls the many events that take place around such a table, joys and sorrows, births and deaths, prayers of thanks. We nurture our children here; we dream and gossip over coffee; it provides shelter from rain and sun; we hide and celebrate here. In other words, life goes on in all its mundane and essential forms.
So it has been since creation, and it will go on. It is going on right now in kitchens all over the world as we struggle to understand what is happening around us, as we slow down and retreat from the chaos that life has become for many of us. So sit at your kitchen table today and recall all that it has witnessed and know that should the world end here, we will be laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
May you be safe. May you be well.