In a Parking Lot, Thinking of Wendell Berry

Photo Credit: James Baker Hall

The Mad Farmer turns 76 today.

I love so many of Berry’s poems it’s hard for me to pick just one to mark this occasion. I ultimately chose the poem below because I’m currently reading “The Selected Poems of William Carlos Williams,” and also because I’m writing this post from a restaurant parking lot, as I wait to be conferenced in on a work call. (Oregon is now a hands-free state but I refuse to buy a hands-free device.)

Many happy returns, Mr. Berry.

“In a Motel Parking Lot, Thinking of Dr. Williams”


The poem is important, but
not more than the people
whose survival it serves,

one of the necessities, so they may
speak what is true, and have
the patience for beauty: the weighted

grainfield, the shady street,
the well-laid stone and the changing tree
whose branches spread above.

For want of songs and stories
they have dug away the soil,
paved over what is left,

set up their perfunctory walls
in tribute to no god,
for the love of no man or woman,

so that the good that was here
cannot be called back
except by long waiting, by great

sorrows remembered and to come
by invoking the thunderstones
of the world, and the vivid air.


The poem is important,
as the want of it
proves. It is the stewardship

of its own possibility,
the past remembering itself
in the presence of

the present, the power learned
and handed down to see
what is present

and what is not: the pavement
laid down and walked over
regardlessly–by exiles, here

only because they are passing.
Oh, remember the oaks that were
here, the leaves, purple and brown,

falling, the nuthatches walking
headfirst down the trunks,
crying “onc! onc!” in the brightness

as they are doing now
in the cemetery across the street
where the past and the dead

keep each other. To remember,
to hear and remember, is to stop
and walk on again

to a livelier, surer measure.
It is dangerous
to remember the past only

for its own sake, dangerous
to deliver a message
you did not get.


2 comments on “In a Parking Lot, Thinking of Wendell Berry

  1. Hello Mr. Pattison:

    I manage the James Baker Hall Archive of Photographs and Films – this image of Mr. Berry was taken by the late Mr. Hall. Please consider making a caption that credits James Baker Hall for this photograph. Also, for my record, I’m interested to know where you found this image.

    Thank you very much.

  2. Sarah,

    I added a caption credit for James Baker Hall. Also, if visitors click on the photo it will take them to the James Baker Hall Archive website.

    I’m reading Wendell Berry’s “Window Poems” now which features a fantastic introduction from Mr. Hall. I also have the Hall/Berry collaboration “Tobacco Harvest” coming from the library.

    I’m not sure where I found it, to be honest. Google Images, probably. Sorry.

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