They’re not like peaches or squash.
Plumpness isn’t for them. They like
being lean, as if for the narrow
path. The beans themselves sit qui-
etly inside their green pods. In-
stinctively one picks with care, 
never tearing down the fine vine,
never noticing their crisp bod-
ies, or feeling their willingness for
the pot, for the fire.

I have thought sometimes that
something—I can’t name it—
watches as I walk the rows, accept-
ing the gift of their lives to assist

I know what you think: this is fool-
ishness. They’re only vegetables.
Even the blossoms with which they
begin are small and pale, hardly sig-
nificant Our hands, or minds, our
feet hold more intelligence. With
this I have no quarrel. 

But, what about virtue?

“Beans” by Mary Oliver. Reprinted by the permission of The Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency as agent for the author. Copyright © Mary Oliver 2004 with permission of Bill Reichblum