Poetry at the table #1

On Sunday night at Collins Street we sat around the table set with bread and wine, the ‘elements’ of our faith, and reflected on the incredulity of bread as a sign of God.

Bread: it’s a staple of the mundane and the necessary; an international language of sustenance and gathering; a sign of commonality yet a reminder of lives so disparate. Bread is humility, labour, community, deprivation, routine, excess, power, hunger, abundant loaves and scattered crumbs. Who would have thought bread could lead us to so many places.

Before eating, we read together Kay Galloway’s words.  

A Map of Bread

In Nazareth, Israel, warm, unleavened flat bread
eaten with hummus and olives
and local Palestinian dignitaries;
served with courteous formality,
the hospitality of the dispossessed,
and passionate subtexts.

In Pheonix, Mauritius, crusty baguettes
steaming from the oven of a Hindu baker
in a dusty Moslem town,
eaten with Chinese Christians,
a colonial legacy
to a multi-ethnic present.

In Sarajevo, Bosnia, pitta bread, kebab,
tiny cups of strong, sweet, cardamom-spiced coffee.
The crowded, cosmopolitan streets of the city
where Islam is at home,
a European faith,
buzz with conversation and culture heady in its richness.
But the still-shattered houses and charred hotels are silent witnesses
to a more brutal reality
and the potholed roads carry warnings
of landmines a few feet away.

In Moscow, Russia, solid, densely-textured white bread
with crunchy cucumbers.
The June trees green the city
and perestroika is in the air.
Women professors talk of fashion
and men who drink too much
of their children
of the rumour of possibilities.

In Naha City, Okinawa, not bread but rice,
pure white, unseasoned;
the Indians carry little pots of chilli to all the meals.
In breakfast queue, the revolutionary leader in exile
speaks in measured tones of the slaughter of his people,
25,000 of them, invisible to western eyes.
Last year, fifteen years and many deaths later,
he finally went home.

In Harare, Zimbabwe, sticky sadza,
mealie porridge eaten with beautiful young women
who unaccountably die
between one meal and another.
Street children at the orphanage plant trees,
orange and lemon because ‘there is no money for fruit’.
Harvest will not come in time for them.
They are planting for the future.

In Toronto, Canada, in a shop with eighty kinds of bread,
a man screams obscenities, threatens inexplicable violence
to the Korean shopkeeper.
She does not know him, nor any reason for his assault
but his hatred is palpable,
infects the other customers with fear.
Perhaps she did not have the bread
he was looking for.

‘You shall eat, but not be satisfied,
and there shall be hunger in your inward parts.’

(Micah 6.14)

On the map of bread
so many hungers.
and we, the satiated,
the powerful
of state and church alike,
having bread,
decide who shall eat and who shall go hungry.

(Included in Joy Mead’s The One Loaf: An Everyday Celebration, Wild Goose, 2001)

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