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The Family Tableau

by Robert Hass

On the morning of the Käthe Kollwitz exhibit, a young man and woman come into the museum restaurant. She is carrying a baby; he carries the air-freight edition of the Sunday New York Times. She sits in a high-backed wicker chair, cradling the infant in her arms. He fills a tray with fresh fruit, rolls, and coffee in white cups and brings it to the table. His hair is tousled, her eyes are puffy. They look like they were thrown down into sleep and then yanked out of it like divers coming up for air. He holds the baby. She drinks coffee, scans the front page, butters a roll and eats it in their little corner in the sun. After a while, she holds the baby. He reads the Book Review and eats some fruit. Then he holds the baby while she finds the section of the paper she wants and eats fruit and smokes. They’ve hardly exchanged a look. Meanwhile, I have fallen in love with this equitable arrangement, and with the baby who cooperates by sleeping. All around them are faces Käthe Kollwitz carved in wood of people with no talent or capacity for suffering who are suffering the numbest kinds of pain: hunger, helpless terror. But this young couple is reading the Sunday paper in the sun, the baby is sleeping, the green has begun to emerge from the rind of the cantaloupe, and everything seems possible.

It is the 19th of December. The Winter Solstice is in two days, the Christmas and New Year holidays pushing forward on the heels of a tough week of national loss. American families are in mourning, in confusion about what is and isn't the nature of the human heart. This morning I happened across this lovely, muted prose poem by Robert Haas, a poet of great gravitas and dignity I had the great good fortune to hear read from his work at Stanford during his tenure as United States Poet Laureate. Somehow in revisiting this poem ~ a poignant gentle sketch of a family outing ~ I came to my own sense of hope again. Of possibility that all of us will, in the passage of time, heal. And in the fullness of days, find peace once more in our hearts and possibility for goodness in the day.

Let us look to the warmth of family and friendship for the truth of the human spirit. Let us join hearts in these holidays and keep faith in goodness.
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