Coincidentally, I had been reading one of Margaret Atwood’s poetry books when we decided to go ahead with #MARM. I’m not a big poetry reader, but I was really taken with the poems in Morning in the Burned House (1995). Particularly the ones about a woman’s ageing father, and memories of their time together.
All those times I was bored
out of my mind. Holding the log
while he sawed it. Holding
the string while he measured…
(Bored while pounding stakes into the garden, while planting and weeding. Or sitting in a boat while he steered, paddled. Carrying the wood, drying the dishes.)
I could hardly wait to get
the hell out of there to
anywhere else. Perhaps though
boredom is happier. It is for dogs or
groundhogs. Now I wouldn’t be bored.
Now I would know too much.
Now I would know.
I sit there, watching the flowers
in their pickle jar. He is asleep, or not.
I think: He looks like a turtle.
Or: He looks erased.
But somewhere in there, at the far end of the tunnel
of pain and forgetting he’s trapped in
is the same father I knew before,
the one who carried the green canoe
over the portage, the painter trailing,
myself with the fishing rods, slipping
on the wet boulders and slapping flies.
Many of her poems tell stories, which is my favourite type of poem.
And I loved this one, titled “The Moment“…
The moment when, after many years,
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way around.
I bought my copy of Morning in the Burned House from a book sale not long ago, and was delighted to find these treasures inside…
On the other side of the Atlantic Theater Festival ticket is the name and address of the woman who bought it (and the previous owner of the book). The address is one that is just up the street from me. The date of the event almost 5 years before we moved here. I wonder if she is still living there?
This book was originally put together by Margaret Atwood as a fundraiser for the P.E.N. International Writers in Prison Programme and the Writers’ Development Trust. In Atwood’s words, “Viewed one way, it’s a civilized literary symposium on the subject of food, containing, as it does, a great many extracts selected from Canadian poetry and prose, past, present, and coast-to-coast, on the subject of some of the things people put into their mouths with a view to ingestion. Viewed another way, it’s a collection of recipes preceded by some amusing verbal shenanigans.”
You can find recipes such as Pierre Berton‘s Terrific Christmas Turkey, Margaret Atwood‘s Bourbon Pecan Christmas Cake, Quick Baked Monster à la Dennis Lee, Nova Scotia Rolled Oats Brown Bread (a favourite of MA’s mother), Joyce Barkhouse‘s Pictou County Oatcakes, Brian Doyle‘s Onion Sandwich, Alice Munro‘s Maple Mousse, and Michael Ondaatje‘s Grapefruit.
The grapefruit is appropriate for poets, who can meditate on its roundness and yellowness, but also for novelists, who can describe the way the juice squirts out into your eye. Hence it is the perfect fruit for all-rounder Ondaatje, who scorns the addition of sugar.
You can find excerpts from stories, books, and poems such as this one from Robertson Davies…
After several months of abstinence, I indulged moderately in doughnuts at lunch today. It is odd that so much has been written about food without any discerning gourmet having paid an adequate tribute to this noble confection, Beautiful to the eye, arresting to the tooth, and ravishing to the palate; fit for the table of a Lucullus, and yet capable of being prepared in the humblest peasant’s abode; made from the simplest ingredients and yet a challenge to the art of the subtlest chef; delicious at bedtime and superb in the picnic or “al fresco” repast; adequate to the needs of the famished ploughman yet tempting to the vacillating appetite of the queasy convalescent, the doughnut rises above all common foods with the effortless superiority of a Rhodes Scholar trying the entrance examinations of an Infant Class. —Robertson Davies, Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks
And, of course, one from Margaret Atwood…
She took the cake off the sill, felt it to see if it was cool enough, and put it on the kitchen table. Then she began to operate. With the two forks she pulled it in half through the middle. One half she placed flat side down on the platter. She scooped out part of it and made a head with the section she had taken out. Then she nipped in a waist at the sides. The other half she pulled into strips for the arms and legs. The spongy cake was pliable, easy to mold. She stuck all the separate members together with white icing, and used the rest of the icing to cover the shape she had constructed. It was bumpy in places and had too many crumbs in the skin, but it would do. —Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman
I have loved discovering gems like this, and like the children’s books I read, that I might not normally have dug up. Have you discovered anything new-to-you this month?