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an ongoing list


published in

These I Would Praise If I were locked in tornado winds 100 feet above my death; or no, if I were trapped in earthquake rubble 40 feet beneath the sunlight; or wait, if I were just pinned to an ordinary deathbed -- for these endings happen, too, even more frequently than the others -- I pray that I would have the grace to think back over my life and quietly count the everyday blessings that had been bestowed upon me.  In tribute to the poet Rupert Brooke, who counted his in the deathless poem “The Great Lover,” these I would praise:

•  the slightly mad, utterly humorless gaze of a cockeyed goat who knows me solely as an instrument for bringing him hay 

• clumps of leftover ice melting on green grass after a garden party     

• how 10-year-old boys wear suit jackets begrudgingly, half shirking them off their shoulders, like ponies resisting saddles 

• optometrists who straighten your glasses for free, or screw a loose arm back on for free, always saying “that’s ok, no need for any of that” 

• the sound of a soap bar hitting the tub floor – such a sly thud!  

• when the air temperature out of doors is the same as air temp in, suspending you in the most exquisite equipoise, like a diver’s neutral buoyancy, afloat in the best of both worlds; and making me think, rightly or wrongly, that there is a corresponding balance between the outside and inside of my body, that what’s mine is yours, yours mine, and it’s all just air to share 

• faulty drums in a high school marching band

• looking out the back window of a train when it’s hurtling, or forward through the front of a speeding subway

• people mumbling to themselves on the phone: "now let's see, what'd I do with --"

• the filigree trail of a ladybug’s path in the steam of a bathroom window

• how strangers say “good morning” instead of just “hello.”  How middle English!  

• how strangers use any excuse to bond on the most commonplace things.  “You like the Beatles more than the Rolling Stones?  Me, too!  I can’t believe it!”

• high school punks pretending to despise their afternoon jobs bagging at the local supermarket, but when you ask them where the water chestnuts are, they jump to despite themselves, smartly responding, “Sure thing. It’s in aisle 12, halfway down on the bottom of the left side”

•  actors' holy spittle

• the miraculous overabundance of paraphernalia at a large sports department store.  You mean we can play with all this? 

• giving a 7-week-old his first bottle at 1:30 a.m. and seeing his eyes open wide with insight when the warm milk floods his mouth

• the sound of a dog lapping water

• when talking to a person at dinner and that person says "Uh huh" just as she's about to drink so you hear the "uh huh" inside her glass

• being called “hon” by shop girls of any age, any class, the homelier the better.  Or a workman calling me “Danny.” Or a train conductor being chummy for no reason

• the historical fact that in the year 1763 a man who had been committed to an asylum for praying non-stop wrote hundreds of pages in which he attempted to praise God for every single aspect of his life, including the creation of his cat, Jeoffry, “for by stroking of him I have found out electricity”

• truck grills painted to resemble the jaws of a barracuda or other monster gaping fish

• the sight of an airplane banking in the evening sky. Or from an airplane, the microscopic swarm of children being released from an elementary school 

• the sound of a room service cart being wheeled down a hotel corridor, ringing with the juice glasses of pineapple and guava 

• contemplating a wrench! What a heroic invention! 

• fetching a newspaper on the late morning driveway, coming out of its plastic sheathing warmed by the sun; or getting a piece of paper out of the copy machine still warm from its innards; or beginning an afternoon nap, like crawling inside a warm chrysalis    

• the sound of a baby biting into his first green pepper with brand new baby teeth

• biking in autumn and seeing a leaf drift downward in the distance and pedaling there in time for it to land against my chest and ride there with me awhile

• disrobing a carrot till it lies in all its naked resplendent carotene-ness, the stark newborn color of a natural vitamin 

• the yearning exuberance of a freight train yowling past a cornfield in the middle of the night 

• the silhouette of a plump black arm in the front row of the bus, lit up by passing headlights, at half past midnight near exit 62 on the Connecticut Turnpike 

• riding my mower at dusk and being expertly missed by barn swallows sweeping the meadow for bugs 

• the sound of boiled water in a kettle beginning its escape (little does it know it’s only to the confines of a teacup)

• driving west on a highway through a summer thunderstorm – the machine gun sting of pelting raindrops, the near-despair of all-engorging purpleness; then the release and coming through the other side to white skies and the Gipsy Kings! Even better in a convertible!

• destination labels on subways and buses giddily spinning after they’ve reached their destination 

• finding this morning's newspaper from Istanbul on a shuttle in Helsinki

• the thrum of Canada geese as they fly overhead

• after a snowfall, a 3-year-old begging for a trowel to help shovel the driveway

• watering the geranium, a plant I don’t even like, and hearing it crack and gurgle and release secret scents

• an autumn day so clean and sharp you can even smell the mothballs on the coats of children coming off the school bus

• a found barrette with a strand of a little girl's hair inside a grand piano 

• coming out of a movie theater at night with the wind chill at 30 below and hugging onto one’s wife of 20 years whose flesh is as chilly and goosepimply as a virgin's 

• when in a strange city, looking out on a Sunday morning from your hotel window into the empty office of the building next door, with lamps and desks arranged just so, as if for a play

• the scent of almond that they layer into the liquid soap in airplane bathrooms

• the smell of hot dogs grilling on the beach 

• driving a convertible on a summer evening and seeing another convertible approach and both of you raise your arms to wave through your open roofs

• the sight of rich brown squiggles forming on the top of a glass of milk when you Hershey-fy, only to sink from view when you’re ready to stir 

• the titles of poetry collections

• coming up with names for bands that will never exist: “Serious Veal.” “Furious Ballerinas.”

• the memory of a California girl running down the bike path, seen from a rooftop as the setting sun backlights her gold hair

• the business of dragonflies through a field of ferns in the midday sun

• hearing a guitar player take an extra long time to tune his instrument, then start in with a shy voice

• hilariously bad bar mitzvah thank you notes 

• vacuum cleaner cords that retract automatically 

• watching Gregory Peck eat breakfast (bacon and eggs never looked so good as in To Kill a Mockingbird

• birds making their nests behind giant outdoor supermarket letters

• how at the end of a long day strangers silently riding the elevator with you will say “g’night” when you separate, perhaps forever


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