A Miracle for Breakfast


A Miracle for Breakfast
Elizabeth Bishop

At six o’clock we were waiting for coffee,
waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb
that was going to be served from a certain balcony
—like kings of old, or like a miracle.
It was still dark. One foot of the sun
steadied itself on a long ripple in the river.

The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river.
It was so cold we hoped that the coffee
would be very hot, seeing that the sun
was not going to warm us; and that the crumb
would be a loaf each, buttered, by a miracle.
At seven a man stepped out on the balcony.

He stood for a minute alone on the balcony
looking over our heads toward the river.
A servant handed him the makings of a miracle,
consisting of one lone cup of coffee
and one roll, which he proceeded to crumb,
his head, so to speak, in the clouds—along with the sun.

Was the man crazy? What under the sun
was he trying to do, up there on his balcony!
Each man received one rather hard crumb,
which some flicked scornfully into the river,
and, in a cup, one drop of the coffee.
Some of us stood around, waiting for the miracle.

I can tell what I saw next; it was not a miracle.
A beautiful villa stood in the sun
and from its doors came the smell of hot coffee.
In front, a baroque white plaster balcony
added by birds, who nest along the river,
—I saw it with one eye close to the crumb—

and galleries and marble chambers. My crumb
my mansion, made for me by a miracle,
through ages, by insects, birds, and the river
working the stone. Every day, in the sun,
at breakfast time I sit on my balcony
with my feet up, and drink gallons of coffee.

We licked up the crumb and swallowed the coffee.
A window across the river caught the sun
as if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony.

From Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems 1927-1979. New York: Noonday Press,

Here's a video reading and interpretation of the poem by Michael Joyce, a Professor of English. I find it funny when he mentions a "Marxist" interpretation at one point- It reminds me of the Brazilian theologian Dom Helder Camara's famous quote on poverty and social injustice  "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." It's just good old Catholic social doctrine ! 

 For me, it is a sacramental poem. It reminds me of the Lord's Prayer: Give Us This Day our Daily Bread, the parable of the feeding of the five thousand, the miracle of the Eucharist, gifts of the Holy Spirit, gratitude and appreciation for the beauty of small and the simple graces of unmerited divine blessing.  

The poem shows that appreciation and benevolence are divine gifts that we receive in order to bless others. What is true of all fruits and gifts of the Spirit, is that the more we are able to show and freely share them indiscriminately with others, we are restored with even more grace and blessing. ( I wish that the latter was always true in this life but in reality life often has a way of making me question that ! )

 This one is an extra throw in  
prompted by an unexpected gift of a stray bee in my kitchen.

Virgil's Bees
Carol Ann Duffy

Bless air's gift of sweetness, honey
from the bees, inspired by clover,
marigold, eucalyptus, thyme,
the hundred perfumes of the wind.

Bless the beekeeper
who chooses for her hives
a site near water, violet beds, no yew,
no echo. Let the light lilt, leak, green
or gold, pigment for queens,
and joy be inexplicable but there
in harmony of willowherb and stream,
of summer heat and breeze,
each bee's body
at its brilliant flower, lover-stunned,
strumming on fragrance, smitten.

For this,
let gardens grow, where beelines end,
sighing in roses, saffron blooms, buddleia;
where bees pray on their knees, sing, praise
in pear trees, plum trees; 
bees are the batteries of orchards, gardens, guard them.

In the bible the manna from heaven that rained down on the Jews as they passed through the desert is thought to have been honeydew from a type of scale insect commonly found on tamarisk. 
To make a one pound jar of honey honeybees must visit and suck nectar from about 3 000 000 flowers of red clover or 2 000 000 flowers of vetch. Think of all that work next time you spread it on your toast! 

I have profound respect for these creatures that are so critical to our own well being on this earth.
 "Let us be grateful for those who give us happiness; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls bloom." ~ Marcel Proust
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