Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lacrimae Rerum...

Within, where there is light, the omelets
have been made
using every cast iron pan
From every cupboard in the universe.

In a warm kitchen, hunger is an old, hopeful dog.
The grey at the windows, the white of eggshells
Strewn everywhere, shattered and glistening.
The feet gliding from stove to sink and back,
And then…
The sudden absence of his bowl. These are ample evidence.

He knows. There will be a depth of dinner, enough
Even for him. You’d see – should you peer through
The frost flowers on the window –
The silent dancing, the dropping shells, the chemistry of liquid egg
Poured into hot pans...

So stylized, so committed to memory by now
Are the economics of necessity,
That they call this choreography, or cooking.
But really, she is simply doing her best
Not to step on any of the shells.

The egg shells are everywhere.

If he hadn’t seen this so often,
He would think it was spring –
That these shattered half ovals
Were recently vacated cocoons,
That the birds or butterflies or moths
Had scattered in flights overhead
Fragments of color and light,
Fancying someplace surely warmer.

Yes, he sees. Their shells are everywhere.

She has plunked the dog’s dish on the floor.
Blind with age, half-deaf, he smells
the heavy atmosphere of food.
By now his senses are few but certain.
With an old man’s stiff grace
He is moved by the remnants of appetite,
Pulled toward the bowl in blind obedience
To Hunger, he shuffles past the fragmented edges
And never steps on even one small, broken carapace.
He eats with a puppy’s assurance that there will
Always be Dinner-and-After, a long sleep by the fire.

She has become uncertain and silent. The chaotic kitchen alarms her visitors.Soon they will come to take the old woman to The Home where she can be cared for.

The dog will be given to her nephew since he always loved that old mutt the best.

The woman will live for several weeks in The Home before dying one night in her sleep. Three days after her death, the dog will leave in the same way, dying quietly in the middle of the night whilie lying on the floor at the foot of the newphew's bed.

The nephew mourns them both all through that unusally long, deadly winter. Everyone on the Upper Peninsula, used to the harshness, are still moved to remark on the bitter cold and the refusal of Spring to show her face.

The nephew understands, though he never attempts to explain...he says to me in an email, "I don't think they'd understand if I tried to say anything".

I reply, "sometimes no explanation will do. In cases of extreme sorrow, we simply have to live through them if we can".

In his final message he says, "I finally got that Labrador puppy I told you about. He is playful but easy to train. And speaking of pups, I will be a father in June. We are giving our child her name in the hope that she may grow up to be the woman Louisa was. But by then, I too..."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Twelve Chocolate Months of Christmas

The Baron and I have had a most interesting Christmas so far (still 10 days to go until the 12th day, which is the feast of the Epiphany, January 6th). Besides the hope change and audacity of putting up a 3 foot, pre-lighted fake tree from the hardware store, we never quite got around to buying one another any presents.

Our lassitude took a while to figure out. We weren't feeling gloomy, just massively indifferent to the idea of decking the halls. As usual, it was the Baron who figured out the underlying reasons, all of which stem from the month-long (or more) bout of illness beginning with the future Baron's swine flu and pneumonia and moving on to our own bad colds before ending with my final flourish with maybe-pneumonia. The ten days on prednisone did not help the chances of Christmas around here. I do hate the side-effects of that drug, even as I remain very grateful that it exists. It has pulled me out of more than one dark well of inflammation.

The foundation of our un-Christmas was a mixture of gratitude that our son is alive and post-illness fatigue. Even the stalwart, tenacious Baron simply didn't care about getting a tree or decorating it. He was determined to attempt to get to the Christmas Eve liturgy at our church, but beyond that and listening to Handel he was content to soldier on sans tinsel. I did talk him into buying eggnog and rum, though.

This is the first year I'm not weighed down with the bleak sorrow of Christmases Past. My daughter's death no longer reduces me to melancholy when celebration times come around. Yeah, I still miss her. A lot. But I don't miss the crises she created all the time. Those grew increasingly worse over the years. Even she said one time, kind of wistfully, "do you think an exorcism would help?" It might have; we'll never know.

The fB stayed at his house for the holiday, which is actually pretty lonely with all his roommates gone home for the holidays. But he wanted to sing at the Christmas services at his church. He was so excited that the choir was doing parts of Handel he even called the Baron and sang some of it a cappella. A good friend of his, a girl in the dance club he belongs to, invited him to their family dinner so he ended up having a good time on Christmas Day.

Which reminded me that he has a repertoire of songs -- covers of music he likes, nothing original -- and a serviceable twelve string guitar. He might be able to make some money singing in restaurants, bars, coffee houses, etc. His voice is stronger and surer now from all his choir singing. At first he was reluctant to consider the idea, given that he wouldn't be doing anything original. I reminded him that he wasn't setting out to be a virtuoso but simply attempting to make a bit of money by entertaining people. So he's agreed to think about it. He knows the practice and the gigs would serve to structure some of his time as he job hunts.

For him, my presents -- some of which I'd already done months ago -- include a really cool duster (he needs to keep the dust level in his room down due to asthma), some fine linen handkerchiefs that were his dad's and his grandfather's. I whitened them (no bleach) and they await the iron. I actually like ironing linens when my fibromyalgia permits. I'm also giving him Steve Sailer's book on Barack Obama's obsession with race.

I got Sailer's book for free from Ron Smith at WBAL and proceeded to avoid it for a few months. My mistake: this is one of the best books out there on our current president. It shines a light on what I have been calling Obama's Hamlet-like personality. Sailer is an excellent writer and his examination of Obama's book about himself is one literary fellow admiring and dissecting the literary efforts of another. Long after Obama's presidency is history, Sailer's book-length review will remain an important work. No paranoia about Obama, no put-downs, no casting aspersions. He did such a fine job that I keep picking up the book to re-read parts of it.

I'll also be giving the fB some mocha mix. I used to make it for him when he was in college. Back then, along with the recipe for making a cup was a BIG reminder to return the vanilla bean when he had used all the mix. Since then I have found something called "vanilla powder" so I can substitute that for the bean, with no need any longer to wait for the flavor of the bean to permeate the mix.

The fB and I agree that buying gifts for his dad is problematic. The Baron has everything he wants (except a job, but that one is beyond us). So we're always reduced to getting him coffee, dark chocolate, or maybe some comfortable socks. Boring. He could use some 'around-the-house' sweat pants but those are boring, too. As gifts, I mean. I do plan to replace some of his older, rattier sweats with a few newer ones from Good Will, but he has to drive me into town. Can't make it on my own very often, though since being put on hydromorphone (bless you, Doctor H!), I am able to get out more.

I finally came up with an ideal gift for my not-needy spouse. He loves chocolate, at least the dark, bittersweet kind. At church dinners if there are no chocolate desserts (perish the thought!) he goes without. On the other hand, if there are, say, three chocolate options he has a bit of each.

Thus my idea for a Christmas present: one chocolate dessert a month for 2010. I'm working on a list, though it will no doubt change with time. For the moment, here's what I've got:

January: Queen of Sheba torte (not sure on the name, but it's in "The Joy of Cooking")

February: Fannie Farmer's Chocolate Icebox Cake

March: chocolate cheesecake. This is The B's birthday month and he's mighty fond of this dessert. It will also be big enough to share if anyone shows up. His birthday is the same date as my daughter's. For years he complained about having to go to town to share his birthday. Then, after she died, he didn't want any celebrations at all...we ignored that. Now it's come back to normal, but without her it has definitely become a quieter day.

April: chocolate pudding cake. Fannie Farmer again. That was the cookbook of my early efforts in the kitchen.

May: I found a recipe the author claims is the "definitive" chocolate sauce. I'll make some chocolate biscotti to go with it since it will make more than the amount of ice cream he can eat before his stomach starts to disagree with the idea. The B's not fond of biscotti but having this sauce for dipping may change his mind a little. Also, the sauce would be good to dip strawberries into and he dearly loves those. May is strawberry season around here.

June: chocolate cream pie. I'll need to find a good recipe for the crust, though.

July: chocolate cookies with espresso filling. He's not a cookie fan but these will be an exception to his rule, I'm sure. Anything that combines espresso coffee and dark chocolate is pretty much okay by him.

August: Boston cream pie. I'll make it with a chocolate cake, chocolate filling and an espresso glaze. Warning: he'll probably stick his fork in you if you attempt to eat any.

September: Paris cakes? Maybe. I need something different so perhaps these will fill the bill. This one's iffy.

October: Huntington chocolate cake. A one bowl cake. I'm tempted to substitute chocolate bread pudding with brandy sauce, but we'll see when the time comes.

November: whacky cake. Maybe for Thanksgiving?? The fB loves this one, too. It goes without saying that they both prefer it frosted so I'll just break up one of the B's Lindt bars and melt it over the top while the cake is still quite warm. Then the melts will spread very easily.

December: maybe chocolate cheesecake again. It's one I could just make every month and it would be fine with him.

I have no idea how this present will turn out in reality. I'll give him his list but he knows I'm like the weather -- subject to change and unpredictability. So if something better occurs to me in any given month, I'll do that instead. The only given is that it will be chocolate and it won't have any nuts. He's not fond of nuts particularly, while I love them. Thus a chocolate dessert with no nuts will be easy for me to pass without temptation rearing its warty head. That's important since wheat and sugar are not my friends.

Except for cake flour, I'm fairly sure I have all the ingredients already on hand.

All I need is a big wall calendar for 2010 to write in these chocolate monsters on their proper dates. I figure mid-month is safe so I'll give myself leeway by having each one on the second week of each month. Thus seven days to plan it, prepare it and present it.

My calendar preference is one of those big Catholic or Anglican wall calendars with all the feast days and saints' days inscribe. One of the remnants of living in the orphanage is my love of the Liturgical Year. It is my compass. But that's a subject for another post.

Now that I'm living on dope, I'll be able to post more often. Not only is the pain now within tolerable limits, but I have more energy. It's still not dependable, but at least there are moments now when the ever-lasting oppression lifts.