The Guest

Poem for a Tuesday – “The Guest” by Wendell Berry

“Washed into the doorway

by the wake of traffic,

he wears humanity

like a third-hand shirt

-blackened with enough of

Manhattan’s dirt to sprout

a tree, or poison one.

His empty hand has led him

where he has come to.

Our differences claim us.

He holds out his hand,

in need of all that’s mine.

And so we’re joined, as deep

as son and father.  His life

is offered me to choose.

Shall I begin servitude to

him? Let this cup pass.

Who am I? But charity must

suppose, knowing better,

that this is a man fallen

among thieves, or come

to this strait by no fault

-that our difference

is not a judgment,

though I can afford to eat

and am made his judge.

I am, I nearly believe,

the Samaritan who fell

into the ambush of his heart

on the way to another place.

My stranger waits, his hand

held out like something to read,

as though its emptiness

is an accomplishment.

I give him a smoke and the price

of a meal, no more

-not sufficient kindness

or believable sham.

I paid him to remain strange

to my threshold and table,

to permit me to forget him-

knowing I won’t.  He’s the guest

of my knowing, though not asked.”

— from Wendell Berry Collected Poems: 1957-1982. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984.

Photo by Taufiq Klinkenborg on

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