Tag Archives: poetry

on moments of time: (story)time: eat this poem by nicole gulotta


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“As for food, simple cooking dominates most days, like jam spooned into thick yogurt, a bowl of popcorn left on the coffee table, or beans smashed on bread. None of it is particularly noteworthy. Leftovers are placed in glass containers for tomorrow’s lunch, and scraps are scraped into the trash bin. Whole plums, celery stalks, and bunches of carrots in the bottom of the crisper go soft before we can use them. The remains of our meals are discarded like poem fragments we put into a file to look at when we’re in need of inspiration.

A poem stops time, keeping a moment suspended until we’re ready to revisit it. A good meal stops us too, however briefly, reminding us to savor every bite.” – Nicole Gulotta, Eat This Poem.

I’ve had this book in my hands for a month now, but I wanted to read through it all first, and cook from it as well, before I shared it with you. The month has been very busy, but I’ve pulled this book into my lap for five and ten minute stretches here and there, and we’ve been cooking from it all month. To be completely honest, it wasn’t the first time I’ve read or cooked with Nicole. Her blog of the same name is a staple in my life, and I consult her Literary City Guides first before planning any trip. I even got to test out some of the recipes in this book last year as Nicole was writing and editing her manuscript. I had to dig a little to find the photos I took during that time, and finally found this one.

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Our family tested four of Nicole’s recipes, and the Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies could be reason alone to purchase this cookbook. But don’t let it be.

The only recipe I made for just me was a simple Caesar salad with paprika croutons. I saw this photo and I can remember all the details of that Saturday afternoon. I was home from yoga, and the sun was streaming in the back window of the kitchen as it likes to do on the weekends. Everyone else was eating at the table while I prepped the ingredients; they were scattered again when I finished. I pulled the latest issue of Dwell out of the mail pile, and filled a water spotted glass two-thirds high before sitting down to eat. I ate the whole bowl, and helped myself to seconds. The afternoon stretched ahead of me, glass-spotted, sun-spotted. I packed the leftovers into glass containers for tomorrow’s lunch, and ate the scraps, folded down the corner of the magazine page, and set it aside to finish later.

…..

Pairing Nicole’s own rich food stories and kitchen experiments with poetry is the magic here. One night I had beets, and I started in an ordinary place – the index, scrolling my finger though the b’s to find inspiration. But another night I first opened and began to read Billy Collins’ writing about a pear, and dinner inspiration started there. Food is temporary, fleeting. A few moments on our counter, and then spent – eaten, stored, discarded. It meets us where we need it, and can be nothing more than that. Which makes the memory of a salad on a Saturday that much more surprising – and comforting. What else did I do that day? I’m not really sure, but I can still remember standing there at the counter, scraping croutons off the baking sheet, and eating scraps as I went.

…..

BASKETS

By Louise Gluck

From The Triumph of Achilles (1980)

1.
It is a good thing,
in the marketplace
the old woman trying to decide
among the lettuces,
impartial, weighing the heads,
examining
the outer leaves, even
sniffing them to catch
a scent of earth
of which, on one head,
some trace remains—not
the substance but
the residue—so
she prefers it to
the other, more
estranged heads, it
being freshest: nodding briskly at the vendor’s wife,
she makes this preference known,
an old woman, yet
vigorous in judgment.

2.
The circle of the world—
in its midst, a dog
sits at the edge of the fountain.
The children playing there,
coming and going from the village,
pause to greet him, the impulsive
loving interest in play,
in the little village of sticks
adorned with blue fragments of pottery;
they squat beside the dog
who stretches in the hot dust:
arrows of sunlight
dance around him.
Now, in the field beyond,
some great event is ending.
In twos and threes, boldly
swinging their shirts,
the athletes stroll away, scattering
red and blue, blue and dazzling purple
over the plain ground,
over the trivial surface.

3.
Lord, who gave me
my solitude, I watch
the sun descending:
in the marketplace
the stalls empty, the remaining children
bicker at the fountain—
But even at night, when it can’t be seen,
the flame of the sun
still heats the pavements.
That’s why, on earth,
so much life’s sprung up,
because the sun maintains
steady warmth at its periphery.
Does this suggest your meaning:
that the game resumes,
in the dust beneath
the infant god of the fountain;
there is nothing fixed,
there is no assurance of death—

4.
I take my basket to the brazen market,
to the gathering place.
I ask you, how much beauty
can a person bear? It is
heavier than ugliness, even the burden
of emptiness is nothing beside it.
Crates of eggs, papaya, sacks of yellow lemons—
I am not a strong woman. It isn’t easy
to want so much, to walk
with such a heavy basket, either
bent reed, or willow.

…..

Buy a copy of Eat This Poem for yourself, but then maybe for your mother next week, or the teachers who share poetry with you and your children, or the newlyweds just filling a first kitchen, or any others who feed your soul.


[Gift pairs well with the aforementioned cookies.]

to be of use

I am the second to rise from the bed each morning. I hear him stir, but I bury deeper under the covers and return to sleep. Later, he tiptoes in to say goodbye, and I stand at the chilly window and wipe away the moisture on the single pane of glass enough that I can watch him walk to his truck and wave goodbye. I only have a few more minutes to fully awaken before it’s my turn at the morning.

For many months after the loss of my niece, these moments were the hardest of the day for me. There is this feeling of suspension in those few moments before dawn. Time moves at a different speed, and the requirements of the day ahead feel less concrete, more fluid. Grief interrupts this suspension, or maybe it rests in it, thrives in it. It’s a daily relearning of what this day means outside of the sleep world where reality is briefly suspended. Those moments would fill me with dread, and then anxiety. I would watch him walk to his truck and trace the lines of the taillights’ red on the damp glass. I would picture the car that would barrel through the next intersection against that other red light in my vision, hitting his truck near the rear of the bed, spiraling him into the light pole on the corner. I’d shake off that thought, return to the covers, and then picture him drowsy in a warm car, slipping over the white line into another vehicle, and I’d wait for the phone to ring. By the time my own wake up call would sound I would be a ball of taut nerves, unable to unwind into the day ahead. He would send me a note to let me know that he was at his desk and not a ditch, but I already knew that. I understood these things to be irrational, but they were no less vivid to me in the moment.

I sought a new practice for how to handle this anxiety, and I found the most help in a yoga class that I joined. It took me awhile, but I learned the techniques I needed to help me release the tension of the day as I headed off to sleep, and it gave me a structure for greeting the new day without immediately lapsing into that same pattern of anxiety. In time I was able to fully stretch into the next day. The best way I can describe it is this – I feel a sense of gratitude for another day rather than feeling like I narrowly grabbed the day away from an impending, but certain, doom. It isn’t perfect, and I have to work a little harder when his commute involves a plane. I breathe into the nerves and visualize our dinner table, warm and loud, with oft-forgotten manners and occasional spills, but also all three chairs filled, plus that fourth one we drag in from the dining room each night and wedge in around our tiny table.

…..

That practice was working well, but it feels as if it’s lapsing a bit. Each day brings a new onslaught of dread and anxiety and frustration. It feels like punches are coming from a dozen different directions, their delivery is jagged and painful, attacking the fundamental pillars of this country. It’s hard to focus our outrage, our action, our work. Now when I stir in the night everything snaps into focus, and sleep is gone. My mind is running at top speed again, and that slowing practice, that breathing practice, is a challenge.

Last weekend was a whirlwind of activity. Saturday I moved from task to task at lightning speed, and during the in between moments I ran through the notes in my head for a talk I was scheduled to give on Sunday. I spoke them aloud in the car, practicing what I might say. I was confident in the message, but nervous about the delivery, unsure about the vehicle, tentative about my voice. Even now, on the flip side, I still am, although I was graciously welcomed and warmly received. This feels like another transition for me – and transitions aren’t my forte. My instinct is to pull back, to say maybe next time, and observe a little longer.

In the middle of these thoughts on Saturday, I received an email with this poem. It was read at the kickoff of the Educators for Social Justice conference, and my friend sent it out to the group of us buzzing around from event to event that weekend. I pulled into a parking lot and parked my car in the last row and read it a few times.

To be of use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
 
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
 
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
…..
I’ve read and reread this poem many times this week. I’ve had a full schedule of meetings with various groups outside of work, plus the busyness of work and family and home. That kind of calendar can make me anxious and tired, which can transform those meetings into distractions or disruptions in my mind. So I reframed them. I went into them with the excitement that I get to watch people do the work, to watch them do it well, to watch them do what has to be done, again and again. I submerge myself in it; I listen, I watch, hoping to one day find myself sturdy and capable and of use.

making peace

Making Peace by Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
“The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.”

But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.

A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.

A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses. . . .

A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.