I've been thinking about poetry and food, like you do. I'm guilty of posting pictures of food at restaurants and at home: just take a look at this perfectly cooked tuna! Check out this heaping platter of panko crusted, fried goodness! And I like seeing friends' pictures of food they're about to experience or food which they've made for their families and friends. It's almost like, when I see the care with which you've created your grilled shrimp and coarse cheese grits, I feel the warmth of your home. And maybe that's a little sad. Virtual and everything. But most of my friends and family live far away, and so I'll take these small glimpses into their kitchens and their lives.
Yesterday, my kids and I made the flatbread recipe by Food Network's Alex Guarnaschelli. Making bread always amazes me in its simplicity: flour, water, yeast, and in this case, honey. Watching my kids measure ingredients, mix, and knead dough brings me back to my childhood kitchen and baking with my mom.
There is so much in baking to use in poetry. The yeast metabolizes simple sugars and excretes carbon dioxide and alcohol, causing the dough to rise. To double in size in a warm place. The idea of doubling. The yeast itself -- a single cell fungus. A living thing transformed into bread. Bread that is life.
There are many poems about bread, but Bill Holm's "Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe" is one of my favorites. Consider these lines: "[...] alive as any animal, / and the yeast and cream and rye / will sing inside you after eating / for a long time" (Holm).
Kneading and rolling dough is meditation; the movements don't seem to need to be learned. My daughter presses the heels of her small hands into the ball just like I do, just like my mother does, and I can assume just like all of my grandmothers did. Of course, baking our own bread is not a necessity for my family. I imagine cold mornings in my ancestors' farmhouse kitchens.
Will my poem be about the old Minnesota farmhouse? My mother, up before dawn to milk the cows? Sneaking bread and apples? Will it be about making bread with my children? Their faces set, intent on leveling the flour; the muscles in their small arms bunching as they work the wooden spoon around the glass bowl? Will it be about the kind of bread we made?
Flatbread will always remind me of being on a Navajo reservation in the early 70's, eating frybread made on a camp stove. Will my poem be about that experience? My family traveling the American Southwest, camping, learning about the different Native American tribes in each region? Will it be about my own Native American ancestry, the Chippewa/Ojibway/Anishinaabe -- Spontaneous Beings? My own knowledge of my heritage learned only through books? Will it be about the story of the "Long Walk," about frybread as a symbol of Native American survival?
The oil smokes in the copper-bottom skillet,
in the deep seasoned black of the cast-iron skillet.
Women press the heels of their hands into elastic
dough, hands cracked in cold, knuckles like knots,
hands with veins of knotted blue rising.
My mom just called, and I asked her what kind of bread her mother used to make for her thirteen children on their farm in Minnesota. I'll leave you with her memories:
"Oh, she made it in, you know those huge porcelain tubs? She made it in there. About fifteen loaves and the buns. That's what we had for a snack after school. Those buns, hot, and dripping in butter. And, oh! In the summertime, Gabrielle she grew these huge beefsteak tomatoes in the garden. And that's what we had after school. Thick slices of tomato and those buns."
Holm, Bill. "Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe." Poetry Foundation. 2004. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.