This poet might be your next-door neighbor...

In the experience of many, poverty is something on the other side of town, in another part of the country, in far away places around the world.  But poverty is often much closer than we imagine or know.  Poverty is often next door where our neighbors' pantry is nearly empty and unpaid rent threatens the roof over their heads.  I live in a community where poverty often hides behind closed doors, in homes where you'd least expect to find it.  A few weeks ago I spoke with a woman in my parish to offer some help over the holidays.  Her story and plight amazed me.  She shared with me a poem she'd written and I asked her permission to share it with you...  Christmas is Jesus' birthday and the only present he wants is for us to care for the poor and love one another...
Black Pearls

I open my cabinet
and what stares back at me
is a can of Black Pearl Olives
and a can of lima beans

both have been in my cabinet
for years

I have scoffed at them
and reached right by them for other items
much more delicious than they

these have been in my way
so many times
I have threatened to throw them away

a full cabinet doesn't have room for these
shuffling cans like a Rubik's cube
keeping these as far back
as possible

I have not wanted to insult the poor
by putting these in the food basket

I am hungry

I am poor

I reach for milk, there is no milk
I reach for bread, there is no bread,
no sweet fruit, no eggs,
no multitude of choices I usually must choose from
no decisions about calories
hydrogenated oils

I am hungry

I reach for the can of
Black Pearl Olives
and it's as if they are sent from heaven:
I am in disbelief at thoughts of throwing them out

I open the can
and cannot believe how beautiful they are
how plump, how fresh, how turgid

I put one in my mouth
and I am in delight
as it fills my hunger with its sweet juice

it tastes like nectar from ancient times
of olive leaves and olive branches
and olive trees that Jesus spoke of

I have another
and another
and each one is as delicious as the one before
pushing my hunger farther and father away from me

I finish the whole can
and I am full
full with a gratitude for the simplest of things
a very subtle and sublime gratitude
I had not known

How sweet and rich life is

I am thankful today to experience such gratitude
I am thankful today for Black Pearl Olives
which will forevermore be black jewels
in my salad

- Your neighbor


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