Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yesterday I got a call from a farmer in town who said he has canned his final jar of sauce and is now giving me all the rest of the tomatoes in his garden. This is very exciting, but it does mean that I will be canning canning canning far into the hazy future. Fortunately, canning has plenty of waiting-for-the-pot-to-boil moments that I can fill with novel reading; and though peeling all those hundreds of tomatoes will be a drag. I'm hoping to rope a boy into servitude.

By the way, yesterday I made Julia Child's custard apple tart, and you should make it too. It's excellent, and not too complicated. I also made fish chowder, which actually goes remarkably well with apple pie.

Here's a poem that I haven't thought about for a while. It's not in either collection, though it was published once, several years ago, in a lovely but short-lived journal called the Wesserunsett Review. I'm not sure why I left it out of Crimes, except that it's one of those poems I don't always like. Today, however, it doesn't seem too bad, though I should tighten a few grammatical links.

The Land of Spices

Dawn Potter

In the 1970s, what seeker ever laid

eyes on a nutmeg grater? Something called

nutmeg leapt fully formed

from red-white-and-black Durkee boxes,

a harmless grist, innocently beige,

dry as the moon, sandy as kibble,

which mothers tapped by scant

teaspoons into One-Pie pumpkin and scattered

thriftily onto skim-milk Junket.

“Makes food look pretty!”

vowed the label, but nutmeg

wasn’t meant to be anything;

and if a child fell asleep on the sofa

with the library’s black-leather

Dickens flung open on her chest

and dreamed of Peggotty’s

red forefinger, rough as a nutmeg

grater, smelling of lye and ancient

floors, she dreamed in similes

vague as chivalry.

Then how was it that this child

born to inherit our Age of Convenience

felt so exactly the pine-cone

scrape of that phantom finger

against her sunburnt cheek?

Had callow Shelley turned out to be right

after all, blabbing his shrill claptrap

at Godwin’s high-toned soirĂ©e—

“My opinion of love is that it

acts upon the human

heart precisely as a nutmeg

grater acts upon a nutmeg”—

and was the dog-eared, grade-school

social studies book just as true,

chanting its ode of immortality for those

glory-hunters . . . da Gama,

Magellan . . . who bartered

their souls for cumin and cardamom,

vanilla and myrrh, for rattling

casks of seed more precious than prayer?

Because if the Land of Spices

is something understood,

a dream well dressed,

a paraphrase,

a kind of tune, brown and sweet,

round as earth,

ragged as our laboring flesh,

then even in 1975, in the empire’s

smallest outpost, in a kitchen

pure as Saran Wrap, the slow palms sway

and the milky scent of paradise

lingers on the clean south wind:

our ordinary heaven,

this seven-day world,

transposing in an hour, as a child

snaps her flip-flops against a chair,

gobbles saltines and orange soda,

and grates away at her own

hungry heart—word, after word,

after sounding, star-bent word.


Ruth said...

I like this poem. I remember when I bought nutmeg graters and whole nutmegs for presents to friends who had never seen nor heard of such a thing.

charlotte gordon said...

I love this poem. I love that it starts "In the 1970s" -- it gives it just the right complexity

Dawn Potter said...

I'm glad to hear that you both like it, but I still feel like it needs work.