"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hungry Heart

" . . . Such lowly ancestry
they have, these sprouts, so plain! They could be beads
or dresser knobs or marbles for a game . . . "
from the poem "Brussels Sprouts" by Catharine Savage Brosman

Thanks to the miracle of the internet and google search, I recently had the good fortune to encounter the work of contemporary poet Catharine Brosman and to "meet" her via e-mail. I had been experimenting with my camera, a pound of Brussels sprouts, and a few leeks, and was so pleased with my results (see "Still Life with Brussels Sprouts and Leeks," above) that I thought to myself, "There must be a poem out there somewhere to go with this picture." How delighted I was to discover Brosman's beautiful ode to the Brussels Sprout, just in time for St. David's Day (March First). Brosman herself observes that not many poems have been written on the topic of Brussels sprouts, and I know she is right, because I have searched! She (and LSU Press) graciously consented to my use of her unique vernal poem on my daily blog (see "My Vegetable Love," on the Quotidian Kit, March 1, 2011).

Brosman has written poetry on a variety of other vegetables, fruits and seafoods. The striking imagery of "Artichokes," "Mushrooms," "Lemons," and "Asparagus," was in my mind as I shopped for produce a few days after reading, her book Passages: Lemons "Seasoning the mind"; asparagus offering "all the images you wish"; mushrooms "decomposing in a bitter alchemy." My favorite has to be the secret interior of the artichoke: "A final leaf, and I have reached / the void of things, the emptiness within--but / no! for at the core . . . one finds . . . a hunger of the palate, / of the heart."

Everybody's Got a Hungry Heart
Portobello Mushrooms in the Brattleboro Food Co-Op
Photo by Leif K-Brooks

The next two poems, "Portobello Mushroom" and "Truffles," capture beautifully this dual hunger of palate and heart. The narrator of "Portobello" longs for "purity," though not to the point of death. Life itself, as the mushroom exemplifies, can be "ugly," "rotten - looking," "disgusting," full of "nastiness and needs." In "Truffles," the hidden fungus is "almost a disease" yet "the taste of love is there." Brosman writes that "at an appearance at a Georgia university a few years ago, I read, as the last of my selections, the Portobello mushroom poem in front of a large crowd, mostly students; they were wild about it."

Here are the poems:

Portobello Mushrooms
They’re now in vogue, along with fava beans, veggie burgers,
feta cheese: all good for us, perhaps, but not uniquely so—
imported often and expensive, sought in grocery stores
and fancy restaurants by food snobs, vegetarians,
and others who have “principles.” Where’s the bello part
in portobello? Ugly and quite rotten-looking, they resemble
some strange, slimy creature living underground, or rather,
in the sea, a cousin to a sting-ray or a jellyfish, a slug

or barnacle. Good heavens, they’ve got gills! And I’m
supposed to have that in a pita sandwich, or, worse still,
in lieu of steak! Unless they’re finely chopped,
they cannot be disguised, and even then, that dark brown skin
looks awful, surely tough. Cèpes, champignons, morelles
they too are fungi, like the portobello, but at least
they’re small and delicate and generally pale; yet I’m not sure
that they are not disgusting also. Do we really want to eat

a reproductive organ sprung tumescent from dead leaves
and compost? Gastronomic tolerance is quite amazing,
if you think of it: consider liver, tongue, brains,
tripe, and kidneys, not to mention mountain oysters. Writing
this, I fear I shall end up a vegan or a Jain, not on account
of “principles,” but after much reflection on such things.
I understand the man who starves himself, less from a saintly
impulse than through yearning for a kind of purity,

an unadulterated, out-of-body state, forswearing nastiness
and needs. But that is death. Serve up the mushrooms, then,
well diced and in a sauce, with garlic or another flavor, lest
they seem too close to nature: that my nature, too,
may be transcended, sublimated, borne beyond itself—
a feint (for even Adam and his rib-mate, newly fashioned, ate
of Eden’s fruits) yet an ideal—the being of the angels
without appetite, their wings transparent and their bodies light.

by Catharine Savage Brosman
© 2011.
"All Rights Reserved."


Such a temperamental food—changeable, that is
deteriorating easily, and fitting thus a lovers’
dinner. Earthy too—in Paris, they are sold
still cradled in their soil, all damp and secretive,
suggestive of the body’s appetites—and seasonal,
like love, but more autumnal, being mold,

a fungus, almost a disease . . . Good heavens,
are they really a comestible? But those who know
them swear by the sensation: what aroma
in their pulp, what taste when they are perfect!
(the idea of pigs’ snouts, dogs’, and compost
notwithstanding). —There on my plate, it lay,

that tender truffle, once, with pâté de foie gras
and rounds of toast, intended to be savored
gracefully, enjoyed—a gastronomic jewel,
and more: epiphany, epitome of love. Bon appétit.
—Deep in his sea-blue eyes, the flavor
flashed and flamed. A bite, another bite, a kiss

across the table, more champagne. Thin coins,
they were, those moments of delight,
epiphenomena, mere flickers in a looking-glass,
or little tongues of fire on the river, silvered
by the setting sun, as twilight played
among appearances. The evening ended, wisps

of gustative remembrance on the wind,
and willow branches weaving in embrace. Now
I sometimes buy white truffles, tinned,
and serve them with a trout au beurre, my friends
exclaiming that the taste of love is there—
a luminance in flesh, the dark heart of the woods.

by Catharine Savage Brosman
© 2011.
"All Rights Reserved."

["Truffles" was published in Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture in 2003, and "Portobello Mushrooms" appeared in the same magazine in 2009. Brosman's upcoming collection, Under the Pergola will include the above "Portobello Mushrooms" and "Truffles," as well as a number of other food poems -- on Blueberries, Watermelon, Endive, Radishes, Figs, Grapefruit, and "Composition with Broccoli, # 2."]

The Yellow Morchella rotunda, a true Morel
photographed in France by Pascal Blachier

My personal introduction to the morel occurred one Spring, thirty - six years ago, just a month before my high school graduation, when my friend Yvonne invited me mushroom hunting. We rode the same school bus, but she lived just a little further out than I did, and in a more wooded area. I was never one for hiking or campfires; however, this particular excursion sounded not only pleasant but practically literary, like Wordsworth and his daffodils, or "gathering nuts in May." After all, it was May, and we hadn't much homework, and the sun lasted long into the evening. Yvonne said we should be able to find a lot; and she was right -- the morels were everywhere! However, I was startled abruptly out of my Wordsworthian reverie by Yvonne's observation that "obviously the brush hog had been through recently."

What? Should we turn around and run home? "No, it'll be okay." How could she remain so calm? She didn't seem the least bit bothered by this fearful news, so I tried to be a good guest and follow her lead, but visions of tusks and wild boars and razorbacks were racing through my head. I picked the rest of my mushrooms nervously and totally mystified by her lack of agitation.

As you might have already figured out, the last laugh was on me when I finally made it home and informed my parents of my brush with danger. It turns out that all the while that I was envisioning something like this:

Yvonne had something more like this in mind:

Well! How was I to know that
a Brush Hog (aka Bush Hog)

was not the same thing as
a Bush Pig?!

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, May 14, 2011

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

and my previous Catharine Brosman post
on The Quotidian Kit:

"My Vegetable Love"
March 1, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dagmar's Birthday


Dagmar loved having lunch outside at little places like this!
Photo above taken in Brookston, Indiana
By Dagmar Murray, October 2010

Lunch Friends: Dagmar, Kitti, Katy, Cathy
(My Birthday Last Year)

I'm posting a day early this time ~ on the 13th instead of the 14th ~ because my friend Dagmar was born on April 13th, 1959, and today would have been her 52nd birthday.

Another friend ~ www.jandonley.com ~ also born in April and often mentioned on my blogs, sent a link to the following poem the other day on facebook. Jan wasn't sending the poem, which she describes as "short and so, so beautiful," just to me. Nor did she send it in connection with Dagmar, who died last month, sadly and suddenly. However, as so often happens, Jan's message seemed to come at precisely the right time, thus I share Rilke's poem here today in honor of Dagmar's birthday:

Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

by Rainer Maria Rilke
from his Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29
translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

Dinner Dance Friends: Dagmar, Katy, Cathy, Kitti
(Keith, Peter, Jack, Gerry)

Dinner Theatre Friends: Dagmar, Kitti, Katy, Cathy, Leta
(2 husbands visible; 3 others taking photographs)


I also spent an afternoon last week reading Maya Angelou 's Letter to My Daughter because I wanted to find the sections that I heard Dagmar's daughters read at her memorial service. I believe these are the lines:

"I find it very difficult to let a friend or beloved go into that country of no return. I answer the heroic question, 'Death, where is thy sting?' with 'It is here in my heart, and my mind, and my memories.' I am besieged with painful awe at the vacuum left by the dead. Where did she go? Where is he now? . . . I find relief from the questions only when I concede that I am not obliged to know everything. I remind myself it is sufficient to know what I know, and that what I know, may not always be true.

"When I find myself filling with rage over the loss of a beloved, I try as soon as possible to remember that my concerns and questions should be focused on what I learned or what I have yet to learn from my departed love. What legacy was left which can help me in the art of living a good life?

"Did I learn to be kinder,
To be more patient,
And more generous,
More loving,
More ready to laugh,
And more easy to accept honest tears?

"If I accept those legacies of my departed beloveds, I am able to say, Thank You to them for their love and Thank You to God for their lives."
(107 - 08)

And this:

"Condolences: For a too brief moment in the universe the veil was lifted. They mysterious became known. Questions met answers somewhere behind the stars. Furrowed brows were smoothed and eyelids closed over long unblinking stares.

"Your beloved occupied the cosmos. You awoke to sunrays and nestled down to sleep in moonlight. All life was a gift open to you and burgeoning for you. Choirs sang to harps and your feet moved to ancestral drumbeats. For you were sustaining and being sustained by the arms of your beloved.

"Now the days stretch before you with the dryness and sameness of desert dunes. And in this season of grief we who love you have become invisible to you. Our words worry the empty air around you and you can sense no meaning in our speech.

"Yet we are here. We are still here. Our hearts ache to support you.

"We are always loving you.

"You are not alone."
(111 - 12)

Millennium Park Mirror Ball, Chicago
Photo by Dagmar Murray, February 2009

Back in June 2009, when I started my daily blog ~ The Quotidian Kit ~ I asked Dagmar if I could use her photo of our reflections in the giant mirror ball as the header, because it goes so well with the quoted passage from Quinton Duval. The city looks to me like a big, rounded jar where big ideas might huddle, along with the miniaturized images of our lunch group. We may appear very tiny, but we are not alone!

Here are a couple more pictures taken on the same day:

Riding the Train to Chicago . . .
to have lunch at the Italian Village and see "Jersey Boys"

Dagmar, Kitti, Cathy . . .
at the Chagall Four Seasons Mosaic
First National Plaza
Corner South Dearborn & West Monroe Streets

"The stars were my best friends.
The air was full of legends and phantoms,
full of mythical and fair-tale creatures,
which suddenly flew away over the roof,
so that one was at one with the firmament."

Marc Chagall

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, April 28, 2011

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading