Peter Meinke's Poet's Notebook, Thanksgiving edition

In the year we lived in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, surrounded by vineyards on the slopes of the Jura Mountains, the main fall shindig was the Fête des Vendanges, the grape harvest festival.  Neuchâtel’s celebrations featured a sweet “Children’s Parade” — our kids marched proudly with their teachers — but we were also awed by the clean-up:  after an evening of music, dancing, wine and bratwurst in the streets and squares, by the time we staggered up in the morning everything had been swept clean — the confetti, streamers, cups, all the normal detritus of a huge outdoors party gone, as if it had never happened. Swiss elves, we were told. (In reality, the Swiss, even in these difficult days, hold unemployment under 4% by hiring people to clean up their habitual messes.)

Our hungry world is thankful for harvests of all kinds, and for its children, who are featured in these celebrations. Here, Republicans had a much more fruitful harvest this fall than Democrats, but we all remain thankful for democracy, and the way we hold these seismic electoral contests without shooting one another. We’ll worry about the unemployed, the poor, the sick, the immigrants, later; but today’s a good day to recall the end of Emma Lazarus’s poem engraved at the Statue of Liberty:   “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Our door’s a bit tarnished these days, but we hope our generosity will rekindle.

We’re thankful for St. Petersburg, too, admiring the changes since 1966, when we arrived. It’s come through much turmoil to blossom into the green and vibrant city it is today; driving around our streets and neighborhoods, we remember fondly Mayor David Fischer planting over 18,000 trees in the early 1990’s, now growing into their own — oaks, Washingtonian palms, flowering Florida natives like jacarandas and crape myrtles — along with even more bushes and shrubs, pink and white oleanders blooming along the median strips. This was far-sighted, and will outlive the discordant and ignorant diversions of our politicians.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I imagine 45% of Tampa Bay citizens are thankful and happy (the Republicans, who think taxes will go down), 45% are thankful and unhappy (Democrats, afraid we’ll never see light rail), 5% happy but unthankful (the very rich, who think they’ve earned those bonuses) and 5% unhappy and unthankful (the very poor, including immigrants:  they’re doomed under this dispensation).

During the last decades, also, we’ve watched our colleges multiply and strengthen:  Eckerd and USF/St. Pete have made great contributions to the city, which is younger now, stronger in the arts, livelier at night, and tastier in the bistros and restaurants.   Although President Carl Kuttler turned out to be a bit greedy and ham-handed, he built SPJC into the muscular St. Petersburg College, adding its young people to the downtown mix. (The K-12 schools are a less happy story; let’s hope the city’s attention turns toward them in the coming decade.)

And of course, we’re thankful for poetry, its joys and comfort, always — like our state bird, the mockingbird — singing its little black heart out to our beautiful and difficult landscape.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue . . .

—both quotes from “To Autumn” by John Keats (1795-1821)

—Peter Meinke is the Poet Laureate of St. Petersburg. Peter and Jeanne Meinke’s latest books are Lines from Neuchâtel (2009) and Lines from Wildwood Lane (2010), both published by the U. of Tampa Press.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run . . .

Our children, with whom this year we can only gather post-Thanksgiving, are scattered all over the world, but we’ve been pleased to learn that Thanksgiving is celebrated everywhere, in various forms. Basically, it’s a big bash at harvest-time, bursting markets loaded with tasty local specialties. (I know first-hand about Munich’s Oktoberfest, which I attended while stationed in Germany in 1955. For some reason it’s pretty fuzzy in my mind — that was a long time ago! — though the German word bierleichen, meaning “beer corpses,” has stuck with me. I’ve always been fond of languages.)

In Hanoi, where one of our sons works for USAID, they celebrate Têt-Trung-Thu, or Mid-Autumn Festival, which, instead of pumpkin pie, features mooncakes — square pastries stuffed with lotus seed paste. Another son is in Beijing, with similar festivities, except the mooncakes tend to be round. In America, of course, the people tend to be round, especially after Thanksgiving.


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