Some of you may remember when I featured Penny Harter’s beautifully crafted haibun, “Moon-Seeking Soup,” last October. It was written in response to her husband William J. Higginson’s passing in 2008, and included in her chapbook, Recycling Starlight (Mountains and Rivers Press, 2010).
She and Bill liked to make a special root vegetable soup together. In the poem, she’s making the soup alone, needing the light of the moon but getting the earth, as she sees her sole reflection in the ladle. This healing soup of love and memory marked a step toward accepting her loss.
In today’s poem, Penny captures another poignant moment — she thinks again of Bill as she prepares breakfast with his grandmother’s whisk. Hold memory in your hand, whip new beginnings as grace transforms sorrow.
YOUR GRANDMOTHER’S WHISK
is not round but curves in a half-circle,
its wire hand flashing silver as I whip
my breakfast eggs into foam.
I curl my palm around the worn
wooden handle, smoothed to a soft
patina by her grip and yours, wondering
what ghosts linger even now in her
lost kitchen, waiting to be fed.
She had chickens, gathered fresh eggs
to break on the lip of some pottery bowl,
whisked them into buttermilk, flour, and
baking powder, maybe making a batter
for those blueberry pancakes you loved.
Perhaps she baked a cake to honor your birth,
my love, now more than seventy years ago.
Would I could whisk you both back into
my kitchen, offer you some still warm
scrambled eggs this winter dawn.
Copyright © 2012 Penny Harter. All rights reserved.
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Penny: Bill treasured the few kitchen tools he took from [his grandmother's] place after she died — he was her only heir, his parents having predeceased her — and those implements followed him, and then us, during various moves. After he died, of course I brought it with me to my new home. And I prefer it to the shiny and more flimsy newer whisks. I love the wooden handle smoothed by her and our use over the years, and the sturdy steel hoops of it.
Blueberry pancakes was one of Bill’s favorite breakfast treats, and he reminisced about how she made them. I haven’t made them in a while, but writing about and remembering them has made me want to make them again. He said she used buttermilk.
Speaking of buttermilk, in Bill’s chapbook, Death Is & Approaches to the Edge (From Here Press, 1981), he wrote the following poem in the voice of his grandmother, quoting her since he kept a journal while with her:
A GOOD MANY GALLONS
cured her arthritis
with buttermilk –
straight from the churn
when you’d be making butter,
not that thick stuff
from the store –
cured it all.
I guess it’d take
a good many gallons
of buttermilk to cure
Copyright © 1981 William J. Higginson. All rights reserved.
He also adored her molasses cookies, and used to make a version of them himself. I never saw a recipe, and in his opinion the ones he made came close but never were as good as his memory of hers.
Since Bill was born (in 1938), she’d lived alone in a small cabin in the Connecticut woods, though she did move into a senior apartment in her last years. I had the privilege of meeting her a few times in the late seventies. Now and then Bill would come up from New Jersey to the cabin to help her out, but he said she often protested his coming, doubting that he would want to “put up with a week or two of cutting wood, drawing water from a shallow spring, cooking on a wood stove . . . “, let alone live with her. He wrote, “She would live alone, you could be sure of that.” She died in a good nursing home in January of 1980 at the age of 92, and Bill, his daughter Elizabeth (Beth) Higginson, and I were with her. We sang “Amazing Grace” to her as she passed over.
* * * * *
Thank you so much, Penny! It was good to remember Bill again this October. Your poem and personal notes are wonderful sustenance for those of us who’ve long admired and revered Bill’s work as a poet, translator, author, editor, and premier haiku scholar.
Friends, do you have a favorite kitchen tool that calls up special memories?
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Lovely Linda Baie is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at TeacherDance. Take her some blueberry pancakes and molasses cookies and enjoy all the poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere today!
* Blueberry Pancakes via American Health Journal
** Molasses Cookies via Framed Cooks
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.