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GIVE US THIS DAY by Emily Ruth Hazel

Uncertainty presses us to trust beyond what we can see and to be expectantly present in each day we are given...


The initial inspiration for this poem came to me more than eight years ago, when I was traveling in Ghana. While there, I had the opportunity to attend performances of several classic plays I had seen in the United States (including The Sound of Music and Grease). I loved seeing the different ways these stories were translated through another culture. That got me thinking about ways of reframing the familiar, looking at the same concepts through different cultural lenses.  

 At the time, I was trying to eat vegetarian, which proved to be a challenge in Ghana. My nearly-daily diet consisted of rice and beans, sweet plantains, and life-changing pineapples and mangoes. My friends insisted that I try traditional Ghanaian fufu. In West and Central Africa (as well as parts of the Caribbean), fufu is a staple food, prepared by boiling starchy vegetables such as cassava root, yams, and/or plantains, which are then pounded until they have the consistency of dough. The traditional way to eat fufu is to pinch off a small portion with one’s right hand, dip it into an accompanying soup or stew, and swallow it without chewing. It’s a filling dish, and I was glad I tried it, although I returned to my standbys.  

Around then, I had a conversation with a Ghanaian friend about the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread,” a line from the New Testament passage commonly called The Lord’s Prayer. 

We were talking about how this verse wouldn’t hit home in the same way for people for whom bread is not a staple food. Half-jokingly, my friend said that the Ghanaian cultural translation should be “Give us this day our daily fufu.” That was the germ of the idea for this poem. I was reminded of that conversation when my exploration of biblical passages on the theme of Harvest led me to words about bread.  

 Recently, my career transition to freelancing fulltime as a writer has had me thinking about miraculous provision, as in the biblical accounts of God providing manna—a mysterious, edible substance that covered the ground like frost each night when the Israelites were wandering in the desert. This was their “daily bread.”

While most of us would prefer to be promised a lifetime supply of bread upfront, often we aren’t promised a year or even a month’s worth, but simply a day’s worth. That measure of uncertainty presses us to trust beyond what we can see and to be expectantly present in each day we are given.

(For a beautiful reading by Emily of her poem click here


Give Us This Day

Give us this day, however you slice it,
thick or thin—let this be enough,
at least until the sun, golden
as an egg-brushed Chinese bun, rises again.



Bring us the Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday
bread of life, the ordinary comfort
that we crave: the constancy of cooking rice,
the routine of rolling tortillas.


Give the French their measure of heaven
alongside every meal. Give Italians
their pasta, Ethiopians injera, and Jamaicans
 coco bread. Give Pakistanis their chapatti

and Southerners their biscuits.
Give us couscous to satisfy
the ache in our bellies, naan
to mediate the fire in our mouths.

Sustain us one calendar square at a time,
 through days that boil us down
and pound us like cassava root
until whatever stew we are in,

we are like dough in your hand,
as soft and stretchable as fufu. The days
 and years we wander in the wilderness,
dependent on a promise, moving toward

what seems to be a mirage of milk and honey,
 speak over us a grace that is more than words.
Let even the winter sky be generous:
let us wake to frosted flakes

on the ground outside our windows,
 like the cereal you sent your children
 in the desert, the answer
to their stomachs’ complaints

itself named after a question—
What is it?—Manna, silently arriving
as faithfully as morning dew, in between
dinners delivered as a hard rain of quail.

Stories tell of divine provisions appearing
 in pairs: rolls and sardines, one boy’s lunch,
 feeding thousands of listeners on a hillside;
 ravens carrying bread and meat

to a ravenous prophet riding out the drought
 in a rocky ravine; a widow’s last portion
of flour and oil lasting as long as
her mysterious houseguest stays.

Listeners, prophets, and widows, we are hungry
 for surprises. Give us eyes to see potential
in the smallest offerings, the driest seasons,
the almost-empty jars. In the urban oven,

when summer’s heat hovers
and we are desperate for relief,
may we be grateful whenever we breathe in—
 instead of the odor of ripening garbage—

the scent of something holy: a bakery’s aroma
reaching several city blocks.
After praying for hope we can harvest,
may we not be too preoccupied to notice,

as we pass the community garden,
the sunbursts of zucchini blossoms
and the lazy, yellow squash
lolling on the ground, primed for the picking.

May we consider the sparrows
that swoop across sidewalks,
their fearless pace unchanging
as they fly through chain link fences.

These tiny birds gather what they must
to build their nests, eat the seeds of found fruit
and disperse them, need no silos
for storing tomorrow’s concerns.

They put no stock in corporate politics,
are not consumed with working toward
the next promotion. Sparrows
have no pension plans. They simply trust

there is always a picnic ending
 somewhere, a blanket of blessing
 ready to be shaken out. Give us
that much faith, a thin space

we can squeeze between our fingers.
Give us, too, a taste of Wonder,
baskets of leftovers, crumbs of miracles
scattered like new constellations.

Fill our empty pita pockets.
Multiply our multigrain.
Braid our lives together
like a loaf of challah bread,

and lead us not into temptation
to rush the delicious.
Help us be present with each other
here in this day you have given us.

When we gather, let us linger;
let us learn to chew more slowly
so as not to miss the flavor
in the moments we share.

Let us do this in remembrance of you,
the carpenter boy next door
turned man of sorrows, fisher of souls—
 like us, always waiting for the next bite
~
(Originally published by Spark and Echo Arts, NYC)

Emily Ruth Hazel is a New York City-based poet and writer who is passionate about making poetry accessible to a diverse audience of readers and listeners. Twice she has been awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize in a national competition for emerging poets. A collection of her poetry, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press), was published as a finalist in the New Women’s Voices competition. Her work has also appeared in a diverse range of publications. A graduate of Oberlin College’s Creative Writing Program, she has led creative writing workshops for youth at schools, libraries, and community centers in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, and South Africa. She has also mentored underserved teens through Girls Write Now, a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing the next generation of women writers. Emily enjoys cross-pollinating with artists of all kinds and has performed her work solo and collaboratively at numerous events. Most recently, she performed at the International Arts Movement conference and at the album release concert for “Soon We Will Not Be Here” by James Hall Thousand Rooms Quartet, a CD featuring poems transformed into songs by jazz trombonist/composer James Hall. A freelance editor and visual artist as well, she is a resident artist at Spark and Echo ArtsYou can connect with Emily on her Facebook Artist’s Page found here. 
~If you are interested in seeing your poetry appear in this blog, or submitting a poem by a woman that has inspired you, please click here for submission guidelines. I greatly look forward to hearing from you!~

Comments

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your kind feedback! I'm glad to know this poem resonated with you. If you're interested, you can find more of my poems that explore the spiritual within the everyday featured at sparkandecho.org (audio and text), among a wealth of thought-provoking creative works by many other artists in the literary, performing, and visual arts. Thanks again for reading/listening!

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