I am a retired professor of French, living in New York City, painting, writing, and trying to learn Portuguese. (Language-study is my favorite form of frustration.) My most recent poetry collections are The Unknowing Muse (Dos Madres, 2014) and Wars Don’t Happen Anymore (Deerbrook Editions, 2016).
Every gift, every experience, is either like a Stalk or like a Floweret. Let me explain.
There was, and is, in Canbury, Virginia, a school for girls—Canbury Hall,
which I attended in the fifties. Its Rector then was Reverend Doctor Edmund
Radley, recently ordained, in accord with the requirement
that our Headmaster be a minister, and his affinity
for the embroidered vestments often worn in his profession.
We girls had regular reminders of our Christian mission. Throughout
the Lenten season, no iced desserts were served
in the common dining room. Our deprivation, we were told, would be a boon to hungry people, especially Chinese children.
We suffered nobly, though I wondered how gallons of ice cream would stay frozen
on a long journey to the Orient.
* * * * * *
Every day, we went to Vespers in the chapel where we sang a hymn and recited
the Our Father led by Dr. Radley, beautifully embroidered.
His eyes beamed down on our ripening adolescence as he spoke briefly
on the Vices and Virtues. One time, his theme
was broccoli at the dining tables, each one seating seven students and a member
of the faculty.
A man or woman of color brought a dish to the teacher, who helped herself
and passed it to her left. Dr. Radley, in his homily,
said several students had alleged that, if the food was broccoli, the seventh was left
with stalks alone, denuded and deflowered
by her own friends—whose Gluttony and lack of Charity he urged them to amend
in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
If I had a garden, I’d look forward to the season when blossoms—flimsy, orange, tinged
with green—lay hidden
in the labyrinth of my zucchini vine, because I am not fond of zucchini
or any squash, even the yellow patty pan I used to sauté for my mother,
and if I harvested the flowers before they fruited, I would not be burdened
with superfluous zucchini, or with recipes
for a bread I make, but not because I like it. I’d pick the flowers,
and as I ate them delicately fried, Italian-style,
I’d know I had avoided an unwelcome abundance. But if I really had a garden, I’d likely
miss the fleeting season of the blossoms
and suffer from the customary surfeit. If that happened I would wait to spot your Suburu
nearby, its windows open
in the August heat. I’d place the flowers of my ideal garden in an ideal bushel basket
and leave it on the seat of your car
if you had a car.
Beatitudes of Food
Blessed be the lime, for its juices allow you to cook, without heat, the meat of a scallop.
Blessed be eggs, for you can make the yolks do one thing, the whites, another.
Blessed be cilantro, whose seed is “coriander,” whose leaves are “Chinese Parsley.”
Blessed be those whose taste buds recoil from cilantro.
Blessed be flour, which thickens gravy provided you stir to prevent the formation of lumps.
Blessed be the lumps, for they shall be known as dumplings.
Blessed be the tooth that first bit into a fresh tomato, ignoring the warnings.
Blessed be the gardener who came upon long, pink, edible stalks behind the dark, deadly leaves of the rhubarb.
Blessed be he, she, and they who send me recipes for spinach pie.
Blessed be the Indonesian mime, Pilut Gib, who cooks and eats a tulip, then writes his name in gratitude across a crystal mirror.
©2016 Sarah White
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