“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.”
- Kurt Vonnegut
Perhaps the World Ends Here
by Joy Harjo
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.
These contradictory impulses - to stay with the kitchen, the kitchen table, but also - to stand as close to the edge as possible. Can the kitchen table be that edge? Or is it the place we return to, from the edge?
Always these negotiations, the ones I studied when doing an English degree so long ago. The public and private, exterior/interior. And also - looking at art history - the still lifes, the domestic scenes (typically considered to be lesser genres) compared to the history scenes, religious ones.
It's true though, as Harjo says, the kitchen table is where we learn to become human.
And so, the task - to find beauty there, too, in the ordinary, the everyday. To find beauty in the simple lunches and dinners and breakfasts. Because, as my mother-in-law has often said, "You have to eat, anyway." And we do.
To return to Mary Ruefle: "What beauty is is your ability to apprehend it. The ability to apprehend beauty is the human spirit..."
And so even though I've been feeling dulled as of late, I'm trying to look for beauty in my afternoon cup of matcha, in the flower Rob is drying out so he might photograph it, and possibly later paint it.
And I'm trying to find beauty in breakfasts, to apprehend it there and in the simplest moments. The sour cherries I brought up from the freezer, which we picked from our tree in the backyard this summer and spent hours pitting. Yesterday I made them into pancakes with cherry syrup.
And the frozen sweet potato gnocchi which we bought at the Italian Centre shop a month ago, and decided it would go nicely with the kale pesto I'd made. The steam that rose from it. And the comfort of the food, eaten quietly at the kitchen table one day this week, at lunch.
One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
- Virginia Woolf
Which is the simple truth of it.