The wonder of the ordinary: “A Pile of Bricks”

Several years ago I took a class full of graduate students outside. It was a philosophy of education seminar. We had read a few chapters from The Development Dictionary edited by Wolfgang Sachs and What Are People For? by Wendell Berry. Something in those chapters triggered a deep desire in me to take people into their attention. We walked quietly across campus and gathered beneath a huge elm tree where we simply attended to the tree, quietly observing it. People around us began observing us quietly observing the tree, a massive beautiful grandfather whose constant presence in our midst made it all the more mundane, seemingly unremarkable. Suddenly, all of us – the deliberately gathered and the accidental passersby – felt the tree. And some, like a woman named Rachel, suddenly realized the power of her focus on a living thing she had taken for granted. As mundane as it had become, a piece of stuff in the background, it was for those moments integral to her being in the world. The most mundane things around us when carefully viewed bring us to see the miraculous in the everyday. Even in a pile of bricks.

“A Pile of Bricks”

Jimmy dumped bricks
outside the garden,
three feet from the black cherry gate.

It looked like wreckage.
It looked like a haphazard waypoint
like another pile of junk in rural Pennsylvania,

like tires to burn,
or a mangy dog
barking at a kid on a bike.

It was slated to become a tiny wall
for a fecund bed of
nose-twisting garlic.

My intention paused
when the miracles living in the bricks’
nooks and caverns and the grassy chutes showed.

As I lifted each brick, moving them from the waypoint
to their new destination,
I found those caverns thriving.

A brave jumping spider
smaller than my son’s dilated pupil
leaped from a beige brick hole.

A grass spider mother, egg sack below
abdomen scurried into the depths
where assassin beetles hide.

Two wolf spiders, burrows buried beneath,
their mandibles eager to sink,
raised their arms to box.

Today the pile was moved.
It is entirely gone and will be again.
The bricks wall tomatoes, basil, and peppers.

I don’t mourn those homes’ disappearance.
They only moved,
like the crickets jumping through the fence.


This poem, like all poems I post here, will be revised yet more. Not counting the myriad tiny changes and tinkerings that constantly change my poems, this is its third iteration.


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