In August I wrote about a new thing I was about to do: take a creative writing class in poetry. It’s now the middle of the term and, while I still find myself a bit terrified at the prospect of writing verse, I have a couple of poems to show for my terror.
And today is my birthday. I would never have imagined, even six months ago, that I would post one of my own poems on this blog. But much goodness and grace has entered my life this year, and in many surprising ways. Out of this beauty has come tremendous gratitude, and this narrative poem:
There is nothing to eat,
seek it where you will,
but the body of the Lord.
The blessed plants
and the sea, yield it
to the imagination
William Carlos Williams
“Indigo Rose,” he said. And at first I thought I misheard him
or, perhaps, he misspoke because we were, after all,
talking about tomatoes, and “Indigo Rose” sounds so beautiful,
as if one might be referring to a flower or an Indian princess.
But I looked again at the plum-sized gems and they were,
in fact, beautiful: purple-black with a flaming orange underlay.
So Indigo Rose it was, and I said I’d take a dozen. And I asked
if he had any basil and he said yes, two kinds, classic sweet
and a spicy, deep purple variety, the latter so lovely we joked
you could make a table centerpiece of it and then
eat it for the salad course.
For weeks we carried on like this, my farmer-friend and I, I
admiring the bounty he brought to the town square
on Saturdays, happy to buy what I needed to make
fragrant summer fare—sauces and pesto and insalata caprese;
he, carefully weighing jewel-toned tomatoes and neatly
bundling basil, two kinds, for me. Our easy banter. Our
mutual gratitude. So one Saturday when he seemed a little
out of sorts and there were no Indigo Roses in his stall,
he volunteered that it had been a difficult week—“family stress,”
he said, though he was circumspect and discreet and apologetic
about the tomatoes.
All summer I think of my farmer-friend, how he must live
not only with the uncertainty of weather and the routine threat
of pest and pestilence but also with the same worries and woes
we all have: a wayward child, perhaps, or dying parents, or a
strained marriage. His labors and loves go deeper than what
he plants in the ground. Of course they do. And in my kitchen
of a late afternoon, when I close my eyes and breathe in the
clovey sweet scent of basil, when I take and eat the rosy-red flesh
of summer and sun, I feel gratitude for the grace of good food from
good soil from good stewards of the land, who sow and reap, who weep
for the beauty of it all, the sadness of it all: this life we live, all of us,
our labors and our loves going deep.
Deeper than we can say.
Deeper than anyone knows.