.

The night before, old furniture
And scrap wood set afire
Smoke out the winter’s wickedness—
An equinoctial pyre
Of habits, sins, misfortunes dark,
Succeeded by quick work
To level boards and flaunt a feast
Of charity superb.

A work of art, the table stands
(Its carpentry concealed);
The baker’s craftsmanship looms large
In clever shapes revealed:
The cross, fat rings, bambino, braid,
A staff, a sheaf of wheat
Turned upside down is Joseph’s beard;
His profile’s glazed to eat.

Sesame tears adorn the bread
But sorrow comes with sweets
Of almond, anise, wine, and fig;
The Lenten banquet meats,
Salt anchovies and fresh sardines,
Deck pasta of renown;
Fennel and dandelion greens
Boast sawdust crumbs for crown.

The saint once long ago gave rain
When there was desperate need;
Now families, churches, clubs, and towns
Turn laborer to feed
Whomever comes—a naughty trick
To break the solemn fast,
But solemn joy just once this day
Is strict as penance past.

Knurled oranges add a finished touch;
The lilies’ royal smell
Is doused with holy water drops
And vibrant voices swell,
Te Joseph celebrent caeli
In sturdy gratitude
To a virile father fostering
His yet uncounted brood.

.

Te Joseph celebrent caeli: Let the heavens celebrate you, Joseph
(first line—shortened—of the best known Latin hymn to Saint Joseph)

.

.

.

Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.  


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34 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    Dear Margaret –
    The St. Joseph’s table – what a wondrous feast that also acts as a lesson in charity. Love it!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Yes, it’s prepared to be shared! Thanks for your comment, Sally. I hope your computer struggles have subsided enough that you were able to enjoy the video along with the poem.

      Reply
  2. Paul Freeman

    Beautiful and informative, Margaret.

    Just had a read up on St Joseph’s Table to educate myself. Fascinating.

    And the video that’s linked is brilliant.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Paul. I too learned many fascinating details as I was thinking out the poem. I like the video because it offers such a fine picture of joyful community devotion hard at work.

      Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    What a beautiful poem, and what a tribute to the tradition of the “Tavole di San Giuseppe.”

    I recall two particular items made on March 19 by my family: the “sfinge di San Giuseppe” (a deep-fried pastry sprinkled with powdered sugar), and the savory dish called “pituni” in Sicilian (a flat calzone , filled with chopped escarole, mozzarella, and bits of anchovy, and then deep-fried in oil). Every region of Italy had special foods that were made on St. Joseph’s or other feast days.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Happy name day, Joseph, and thank you. I’m planning to make pasta con sarde. The chef I’m following said, “Use Sicilian olive oil if you know what’s good for you.”

      Reply
  4. Joshua Mincio

    Mrs. Coats,

    Thank you for this lovely poem in honor of St. Joseph. My family has just returned from a Sicilian neighbor’s feast, my first experience of the Tavole di San Giuseppe. You excellently describe in two lines the entire festive spirit, song, and food:

    “But solemn joy just once this day
    Is strict as penance past”

    Sancte Joseph, Ora Pro Nobis.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks for appreciating those lines in particular, Joshua. They are my attempt to show how we think about the apparent paradox of celebrating a big feast during a penitential season.

      As a baker, you might enjoy the National Catholic Register article, “The Tradition of the Saint Joseph’s Day Table,” by Kevin Di Camillo, published a year ago today. The author focuses on the Saint Joseph breads his father has been baking for decades. Many photos in the easy-to-find article.

      Reply
  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Margaret, your poem is beautiful. It’s admirably crafted and conveys with a rich array of adeptly woven images a scene that delights all the senses while revealing the significance and wonder of upholding a remarkable tradition. This poem comes at a time when people need to be reminded of the power of faith and community and the importance of holding on to it more than ever. Thank you very much!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I did make an effort to put all five senses in the poem; thanks, Susan, for noticing! Since last Saint Joseph’s Day, we have all learned to esteem hands-on social and community necessities more than ever. A Saint Joseph’s Table is not something to be done in a remote or virtual manner!

      Reply
  6. Jack Lantz

    The feast, the video, and especially the poem – much needed tributes to the oft-neglected patriarch of the Holy Family. Margaret’s well-crafted poem arouses our senses and takes us there through the preparation to the table of St. Joseph, but, most importantly, in company with the video, evokes the family atmosphere that must pervade all we are and do.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks for the wise comment, Jack. You’re making explicit something that appears in other responses, too. It helps me interpret my own poem, especially in relation to Saint Joseph himself. The patriarch of a family never ceases to watch over its members, even though he may be a man of few words. His overarching care does much to supply the family atmosphere that supports us best when we acknowledge it.

      Reply
  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    There’s another St. Joseph’s Day dish — purely Sicilian — that my 94-year-old godfather is making right now (he reminded me of it when I called him today). It’s called in Sicilian “pasta ch’saiddi” (in standard Tuscan, “pasta con le sarde”), and it is a rich sauce of sardines, fennel, pine nuts, olive oil, and raisins. It’s served on a thick spaghetti shape called “bucatine,” and topped with roasted breadcrumbs.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Great minds think alike; this dish is the “pasta of renown” in my poem. Thanks for the Sicilian name–and please explain why I see online both “pasta con sarde” and “pasta con le sarde.” As more of a French speaker, I don’t like “con le sarde” because I feel the definite article invites all the sardines in the world to hop into my pasta serving bowl, which isn’t that big. And here I cannot resist recommending the YouTube video, “St. Joseph’s Day Celebrated by Sicilians and Italians in New Orleans.” I didn’t choose it for posting with the poem because I don’t like adding a lot of talk in English, but it’s an exuberant riot, especially when the participants fill an 8-foot diameter bowl with 500 pounds of “pasta con le sarde” to be served to the city. This only adds to my linguistic confusion about “le sarde,” as French is an official language in Louisiana.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I’ve seen it both ways. It may be that the use or non-use of the definite article varies regionally in Italy. French grammar is more strict on this question.

      • Daniel Kemper

        Just a random idea: Perhaps the expression has been subject to “back translation” the way that “Dia de los muertos”/”Dia de muertos” has been. -?Just a thought.

  8. BRIAN YAPKO

    This is so beautiful and such fun to read. It made me smile. “Sorrow comes with sweets,” “Solemn joy” and “sturdy gratitude” — all made me think of the resilience of faith. Like Susan said — much needed now. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Brian! I’m happy these words respond to a felt need that I wasn’t thinking much about as I wrote. But then, language is larger than writers and speakers, meaning that readers and hearers may find unplanned delights.

      Reply
  9. C.B. Anderson

    And just think! When I was growing up the best we had was St. Joseph’s aspirin for children. Boy, did I ever miss out. But thanks anyway for this feast of words.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Glad you enjoyed it. And thanks for the nostalgic reminder about St. Joseph’s aspirin! I haven’t thought of it since the last time I had to crush half a tablet, put it in a teaspoon of water, and persuade a little sister to swallow it.

      Reply
  10. R M Moore

    Dear Margaret,
    I prize this poem; St. Joseph is a favorite of mine.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Mrs. Moore. I’m happy to have a good friend who so clearly counts herself among Saint Joseph’s brood.

      Reply
  11. David Watt

    Thank you Margaret for this beautiful poem. Your poem and accompanying video highlight the strength of faith and community behind this sumptuous feast.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks for affirming faith and community here by taking time to make your appreciative comment!

      Reply
  12. Daniel Kemper

    Well, I grew up Episcopalian, which is basically Catholic without the Pope. Or flavor. Or, as time has gone on since then, recognizable doctrine.

    I have a soft spot for St. Joseph tales, as you well know. And savored this one to the marrow.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      So glad you found it savory. Let me take the opportunity to renew my admiration for your poem, “Stepfather,” published here just before Christmas. In fact, after your achievement, I wondered how I could do something different for Saint Joseph during his month of March, and that ultimately led to the present poem.

      Reply
  13. Jonicis Bulalacao

    Thanks, Margaret! Your beautiful poem is such a great aid in celebrating St. Joseph, and in seeing the extraordinariness in his ordinariness.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Many thanks for your response to the poem, after having done your solo part in rendering “Te Joseph Celebrent” and other festive music on Saint Joseph’s day itself!

      Reply
  14. Tom and Laurence Rimer

    There are so many good things to say about this poem, but what struck us most were the tactile qualities suggested — the hard and soft surfaces of those opulent foods and objects piled on the table. The rich poem seems a verbal version of one of those classic Dutch or Flemish still life paintings. In fact, I wonder if there might be some on this very subject?

    a rich feast indeed, and the video was a charming addition.

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I hadn’t thought of possible paintings of Saint Joseph Tables, and I didn’t find any when I looked. The work of art is each actual table itself! Some are enormous works of elaborate build and design, as you can see if you look up “Saint Joseph Table” or “Tavola di San Giuseppe,” and click on “Images.” You are correct to suggest Dutch and Flemish paintings as comparisons, but the tradition began in Sicily, spread to all of Italy, and through immigration became very important in the United States. There are now Saint Joseph Tables throughout the world, and I found that the custom is important in the Philippines and India. It represents an offering to Saint Joseph, which enables him to then offer food to those in need. In the U. S., items on the table may be sold, and the money donated to charitable organizations.

      Reply
  15. Loretta Garcia

    We enjoyed this poem so much. Sacredly scrumptious!
    Especially for this month of March dedicated to Saint Joseph. Thank you Dr. Coats!

    Reply

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