A poem I wrote many years ago, re-written slightly. Originally about Advent, it works well with Solstice, too.
A cold dissatisfaction oozes poison into hours
of solitary boredom that once tasted summer’s warmth
and rejoiced in sensate ponderings of heaven’s languid clime.
Now prayers lie frozen on my lips these bitter, ashen afternoons.
Glossy catalogs and magazines lie orphaned at my door,
but I will not adopt their cheer
nor bed th’insouciant whoring of our winter holy days.
So melancholy punctuates the numbing march of time
into that darkened solstice of medieval isolation —
propelled into the farthest arc, forsaken by the sun.
Thus emptied into neediness, to famine and despair,
I search the yawning pitch-smeared void
and there behold a piercing Star!
No gaily burning candle nor twinkling hearthside glow,
this is the hard-edged hopefulness forged pure and straight of cosmic might,
arising out of nothingness toward Life’s salvific land.
My soul, a silent universe,
lies naked in its beam,
a prayer more fragile and profound
than any summer dream.
For warmth and life, nothing beats baking and eating tasty treats! Steve made a Pear Rosemary quick bread the other day. It filled the house with a savory aroma of sweetness, tartness and tangy evergreen.
May your brief, sunless days be warmed with life, your long, dark nights with be warmed with love!
Today’s Advent door opens up a world of heaven. Taste is something that I appreciate with my whole being, like a baby wriggling in delight. I baked bread twice this week, and made turkey soup and deep dish pizza from scratch. I am looking for Whole Foods markets within driving distance so that I can taste their Truffle Gouda one more time. I get really excited about food! My Christmas magic is gradually boiling down to simply cooking and eating good food. I’m not decorating or exchanging gifts or going to church or to parties, but I am going to enjoy being busy in my home making tasty things for people I love.
You’ve Got Taste
And what a gift it is! Today is the 12th day of appreciating things we often take for granted, and our sense of TASTE is on the docket. If you can, grab something to snack on while you read. You might suddenly feel hungry.
Taste and smell go hand in hand, but there are foods that smell better than they taste. Movie popcorn for instance. Vanilla extract. Coffee. Lavender. (Steve and I debate whether this can really be a food. I say it is, and lavender/lemon cookies are delicious. He thinks they taste like old lady soap.) Cinnabon rolls. McDonald’s fries. Feel free to add from your list.
Last night, Steve & Emily & I ate at an Algerian crepe restaurant. Oh. My. Goodness. Flavors exploding all over the place. Fresh mint tea with honey, served in tiny glass mugs. Lamb stew with chick peas. (Lamb fat is a flavor that will always be a comfort from my past. It is distinct from all other meat flavors and tends to polarize people into two camps. I’m definitely in the ‘thumbs up’ camp.) Roast garlic, brie and escargot. (Yes, together in a crepe. Tres decadent.) Sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, caramelized onions, olive tapanade, pomegranate seeds. And strong coffee, poured from a copper pot with a long handle into a demitasse cup that made me think of the film “Notorious” (Alfred Hitchcock). After sipping my cupful, I found a substance at the bottom that I could have used to make adobe. It smelled of allspice, I think.
Fried Chicken picnic at Ravinia on my birthday
Taste and texture are also inseparable experiences. “Mouth feel” seems a totally inelegant way to communicate the pleasure, but it seems to be the term of choice. Creamy, crunchy, grainy, watery, smooth. I’m not sure how to characterize ‘fiery’ spice. Is that a taste or a texture or a mouth feel or a chemical reaction? “Tastes like burning!” as Ralph says on The Simpsons. In the documentary “El Bulli” (about the famously avant garde restaurant in Spain), they experimented with serving a cocktail that was simply water with a little hazelnut oil floating on top. It was all about feeling the smoothness of the oil on your upper lip while the clear, cold water glided below it into your mouth. Ah, concentrating on a singular sensation. How wondrous! How hedonistic! How delightful! Why not? “I’ll have what she’s having!” the old lady says, pointing to Harry & Sally’s table. Have you ever had a taste experience that bordered on climactic? I have. I savor them. Here’s one that pops in mind: my sister’s homemade Mexican chocolate ice cream. The first time I ate it, I almost passed out. Chocolate ice cream has never meant the same thing to me since. Hungarian fry bread rubbed with a garlic clove at Paprikas Fono in San Francisco. I was pregnant for the first time and STARVING. Seriously, I hadn’t been able to keep food down and I was depressed. I craved that bread with goulash for nine months.
I could probably go on forever, but I won’t. I am so appreciative of my taste buds and the way they enhance my life every day. I did know a guy who’d suffered brain damage from 2 car accidents and couldn’t smell or taste much. I feel much compassion for his predicament. Not that it is insurmountable, but I’m happy to be able to enjoy the sensations I have. Thank you, Universe.
In the expansive mist of morning, when my soul takes time and room to breathe and stretch, I gaze around my room and wonder what I might do with myself. My eyes light on the top shelf of a bookcase, where stands a handmade paper album. Pages of rough texture wait to absorb something well-constructed, like a bed of rice made to nestle a complicated curry. What poem or drawing or photograph would be worthy to lie in those lush furrows? Surely nothing as lowly as what I would create. Yet I long to put my time, my love, my hands to work, to make something. I want to slowly blend my life into some material. The satisfaction is exquisite. I felt it once, birthing and raising children. The medium responds, reacts, engages, resists. It is not a work of power; it is a work of love.
I have begun to notice an impatient annoyance building up in me when I look at photography sites. I am enamored of the images, but so often the captions leave me irritated. I do want to know what I’m looking at and where it was found. I don’t like the flavor of language that suggests violence. “I captured”, “I shot”, “I took”, “I caught”. Why not just say that you were there? It was there. You made a photograph of it at that place and in time. Doesn’t that sound more respectful somehow? It does to me.
I like art that shows that respect. An artist is generous with time, patient, slow, allowing something to unfold, gently. There is a generosity of presence in art. An artist gives herself – body, consciousness, energy, and love – into a relationship with her work and medium. That’s what feels so rich, pleasing and compelling in a well-made piece. Whatever it is. I am often so task-oriented that I don’t think of that. I was taught to be efficient, neat and accurate. In preparing a meal, for instance. When I began cooking for Steve, he’d ask me about supper, and I’d tell him the steps I planned to take and ask for his input on decisions. He’d respond with something like, “Just make it with love.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. I think I have a better idea now.
I have a whole day and a whole chicken ahead of me. I want to make something satisfying, not just in the end product, but in the relationship along the way. I’ll let you know how that turns out. Meanwhile, I’ll share these pictures from Horicon Marsh. I didn’t take them. I like to think I invited them, and they came willingly.
Yesterday was a weird day. I spent too much time in my head, trying to finish up my memoir contest entry. The laptop was on the dining room table while the stock for the turkey soup simmered. Going from writing to cooking gave me a respite from my growing headache, and I managed to get a meal on the table and a satisfactory rewrite done by the end of the day. But the best part was taking a walk after dinner. After the sun set, there was a silver sliver stuck in the bare branches. My favorite decoration. We muttered and grumbled about Christmas stuff already set out and spewing neon, and ached to have a fireplace of our own so that we could keep the passing woodsmoke high going. “When are we going to move out to a rural homestead?” Steve asked. It’ll happen. Someday. Meanwhile, I am practicing my skills. I won’t get any contest results until March, but here are the results of the turkey soup and the chocolate chip bread pudding.
For some reason, I kept this word in my head all night as a blog idea. ‘Proximity’. And now, I’m not sure what I was thinking about. Keeping ideas close by seems to be more and more difficult as I age. I am working on re-writing a piece for a magazine memoirs contest. I have bits of a puzzle, snippets and scenes and questions from the past that I’m trying to work together in 1200 words or less. How do I keep an idea near at hand in this maze? I started humming a song while doing the breakfast dishes. My mind is fixed on a video of Mandy Patinkin in Sunday in the Park with George singing “Putting It Together” — Having just the vision’s no solution/everything depends on execution/the art of making art/ is putting it together.
Here in proximity floats my past, visions of Jim and the kids, emotions of fear and sadness, questions of destiny and salvation. I have to escape to the present occasionally, get into my body, do something ordinary like make a meal. I am making turkey stock right now. The bare bones simmer away with chunks of onion and carrot and herbs. Is this how I will write my book?
Margins, edges where things come together, are rich places of biodiversity on the earth. Wendell Berry writes in Home Economics:
“The human eye itself seems drawn to such margins, hungering for the difference made in the countryside by a hedgy fencerow, a stream, or a grove of trees.”
I suppose I am hungering for the differences in life, longing to live in proximity to those places where life happens in all its majesty and danger, and aching to observe and record some epiphanies. Not that the recording matters. The living is what matters.