The Place of the Green Wand

A GiveBox in Berlin / Sally McGrane

Something called a GiveBox appeared
this fall on Falckensteinstrasse, and my first gift

was a memory: Dorothy Day, decades ago,
gently quoting St. Basil to me: If you have two coats,

you've stolen one from the poor.
Like a walk-in cupboard on the sidewalk, brightly

painted, decked out with flowers, this GiveBox
is for the anonymous exchange of gifts.

I brought books here and found a biography of Tolstoy,
who once made my teen-aged self dream of giving away

everything, and now, over a whiskey,
the idea returns: what if I stripped myself

of all but the necessary, left things off, day by day,
at the GiveBox? Of course, whatever his genius,

Tolstoy's life ended in confusion,
in quarrels, in flight—did he really think,

at 82, he could dispossess
himself and set off wandering? When his body

was brought home, it was buried
in the place of the green wand,

the glade where his twelve-year-old brother
once told a story about a stick hidden in the earth

that, if found, would bring lasting happiness to us all.
As though, having all but rejected his own novels,

he could dispense with everything
but story—Tolstoy wanted no tombstone,

no service, no clergy, and after all he had written
it was the legend his brother made up that he turned to.

A parable Dorothy Day, who lived to 83,
took seriously until the end.

I met her in my teens when she was in her 70s,
just out of jail after picketing for the rights

of migrants. Visiting a nephew who was dating my sister,
she joined us for dinner—someday, someone may ask me

the old question,If you could have a meal
with anyone, living or dead
… Going to a French restaurant

with Dorothy Day would be a good answer,
and I was lucky enough to actually do it,

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