. . . everything springs from the deeply plural earth
The pickle exists through the simple act
of preservation. Ever searching for the sea,
we mimic its salinity with a generous dousing
of sodium chloride dissolved in scalding water
and turn the whole thing over to vinegar,
to the chemical beauty of mingling molecules
agitating the turmoil of fermentation.
Whether the tucked leaves of a cabbage head
suck the masala pungency from the brine,
or thin moon slices of magenta beets bleed
from the sting of salt, whether mushroom caps,
round and fortunate, or carrots accosted
with the sweet spice of ginger root savor
the brackishness, everything springs
from the deeply plural earth. We store
the marinated concoction and thus safeguard
our futures, stave off our own rotting,
preserve all that is ancient and worthwhile
into one crisp bite of vegetable love.
If I had to choose between snakes’ fangs and tigers’ claws to name the needle piercing my flesh I select the cat whose stripes burrow all the way to skin because this hunt— dangerous as an open wound— leads the seeker to my blood and the venom is already present.
At the bank the teller catches me counting on my fingers—the same feeling I had chasing my sister’s bike down the unpaved road. She would fall before I could catch her. As the road curved I was thinking how little I have to rely on; I should run faster.
Caught in the act of failing, used up again dwelling in those Hopper paintings where nothing vacillates, nothing is weak, and all the women wear black pumps. Their isolation—so original, it makes them efficient, but keeps them separate.
But consider this: a crystal’s structure appears only when cracked. We experience the same self when the I cracks and our breath runs out. We earn the favor of being by breaking revealing a symmetry so generous it bleeds. Watching a bruise heal from the inside out it’s the color that matters: never black nor blue, but shades of yellow and one hundred degrees of plum.
Each night at dinner, in lieu of grace,
my mother lit the center candle
on the table. We children
were allowed two fingers of wine
from the icy jug that was kept cold
out on the front porch. The seven of us
shared bread and casserole on our full plates
and the light filled the room with luster.
Each of us had a task: clear the dishes,
wipe the table, snuff out
the half-melted candle,
its smoky trail reaching to the ceiling
like fingers folding into prayer.
When the washer was full,
we’d stand by the sink, my mother and I,
her hands plunged into the soapy water,
mine holding a dish towel,
removing the dripping pans from the drainer,
and wiping the water away, to expose the shine.
We’d stand there in the evening hour
quietly perfecting every keepsake minute.
Later in life, I stand in class, by the desk
in front of students as we discuss short fiction,
plunging into emerging themes.
A daughter and mother in one story
bathe together in a tub infused
with herbs and bark.
The same characters travel to market
to gather bread, butter, and fish
to prepare together later.
The mother preserves the daughter’s childhood
in a trunk: plaid dresses and yellowed blankets,
mementos aired out and refolded again.
In capital letters, I write ritual,
chalk powdering the folds of my slacks. Together
we learn that these acts are connective tissue that bind
our muscle to bone. Though pages away,
miles, or even years, we, as characters
break bread, fold hands into each other’s,
light the light that will unblind us.
from Four Blue Eggs
Check out Brainwaves Video Anthology on You Tube. Take advantage of the filmmaker Bob Greenberg’s hard work, and browse a diverse anthology of videos featuring writers and thinkers from across the spectrum of literature and culture.
Today’s poem comes from Four Blue Eggs, which won the 2013 Poetry Prize from Homebound Publications. It’s available now in its second edition (with a new cover).
The universe has banished us;
fragile gauze hair on tiny forearms
succumbs to renegade heat waves
and celestial currents, which now and again
sabotage our bones, flaking and peeling skin
like pastry dough. Until we forgo
our ambulant nomad ways, return
to fur, or learn to play possum, our doom
will find us roasted and sagging.
we should find our treeness, wear thick bark
and leaves that canopy over necks.
With years symmetrically bubbling
out of a center trunk, each milestone
would bear another ring of flesh
to shield the hemisphere’s burley snarl.
Winter enters the body and it collapses,
the blood cells attack, the fever leaves
the brain with its patterns of coils
and discs like a red stovetop,
an alphabet of rivers and branches.
This landscape, contoured for activity, settles
into animal hibernation,
while remnants of ancient languages howl
from the hospital monitor.
Like dried sap on a tree,
crusted, yet viable, a small scar has left itself
after the coma – such a thing is not
a deformity, but a bud:
a seed replanting its succulence,
an isthmus back to the world.
I have to admit that before the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport Connecticut invited storytellers to participate in their first PechaKucha night, I had no idea what PechaKucha was. It’s simple to describe: a slide show of 20 slides which progress through 20-second intervals–so a story in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. More than the slideshow, PechaKucha is an opportunity to gather with others and share. Developed by an architecture firm in Japan, PechaKucha translates loosely into “chit-chat” in Japanese. It’s taken off worldwide and the U.S. is starting to catch up.
I was happy to participate as the Barnum Museum hosted its first (of many) PechaKucha nights earlier this month (May 9). I told the story of how writing helped me recover from a coma–a story that I share in more depth in The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory.
Join me and 17 other authors from Connecticut at the Read Local Author Fair. Saturday, March 24 from 11-1:00 at the Riverfront Community Center, 300 Welles Street, Glastonbury, CT 06033. I’ll be there with copies of The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory (in advance of its official release date!) as well as Reconnaissance,Four Blue Eggs,Literary Connecticut, A History of Connecticut Food, and A History of Connecticut Wine. Come out and show your support for local authors. In the meantime, follow my poetry progress with Tupelo Press and support Homebound Publications.