Reading Mindfully: Megan Gillespie’s “Cheers”

Reading Mindfully: Megan Gillespie’s “Cheers”

Each month we offer you a chance to read mindfully, using literature to reconsider your assumptions about the world in which we live and work. We encourage you to grab a friend, family member or colleague to read and discuss together – and experience a small taste of Books@Work.

Our blog post earlier this week explored the intersection of poetry and business. Today, we’re thrilled to feature a poem by poet, educator and Books@Work facilitator Megan Gillespie. Megan is Pennsylvania’s 2018 Montgomery County Poet Laureate, and her work has appeared in The Florida Review, New Delta Review and Cimarron Review. Her honors include fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Millay Colony for the Arts and Lector Writer’s and Performance Art Residency.

She currently works as a writing coach for the Wharton Communication Program, where she prepares students for communication challenges they’ll face as future business leaders. She recently facilitated Books@Work sessions with a group of leaders and staff at a large manufacturing company.

As you read Megan Gillespie’s poem “Cheers,” consider these questions:

  • Why are we so eager to ascribe meaning and order to the world?
  • How do we accept things that we cannot explain?
  • Do human beings “improve without question” as they age?

By Megan Gillespie

No one knows why cognac
that crosses the sea three months in a cask
improves without question in fineness.
Ever since they discovered this,
(when every land-borne thing crossing the ocean
spent three months in a boat), those who study cognac
have tried to reproduce the conditions of the ocean
for a seafaring cask but none have ever
been able to make the cognac taste the same.
It is a delicate recipe, they’ve determined,
of pressure, salt air and the rocking motion of water –
perhaps some other variable known only to cognac.
For this is not the liquor’s only secret.
People have never been able to explain the dissipation
of cognac from its cask in a cellar. From a cask
supposedly unopened many years, cognac evaporates
to an unnatural degree. Those who prize cognac
have hired guards for the casks, have called the guards
into question and hired more, still it goes.
Those who believe give this religious significance:
The Lord must be having a sample, the Devil collecting
his fare. In fact these questions ring on in many things
we love. Love. Whatever happens in transit
between us. What sails, ripens. What slowly escapes
in our sleep. But that’s the easy version. Those who study
poems will call its bluff. I can’t answer the real questions.
The why, why, why like the tireless song
of water on wood. Even this poem has two endings.
In one, Cognac gets a life of its own – we hear the dry,
low laugh as it swirls in the snifter, remorseless
of its hold on us. But in the other, I thank the stranger
who first told me the cognac mysteries
as we were drinking margaritas at a bar. I tell him
Adios, Bon voyage, raising my glass to the air. 

First appeared in The Florida Review, Spring 2007

Image: An interior scene with pots, barrels, baskets, onions and cabbages, David Teniers the Younger, [Public Domain] via

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Maredith Sheridan

Maredith Sheridan

Maredith Sheridan is a Development Communications Associate at the Cleveland Orchestra and a part-time member of the Books@Work team. She continues to write posts for our blog.