Did you know that June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month?
Let’s celebrate with PEAS!
Today, we have not one, but TWO perfectly penned pea poems (one of them by a poet named Penny). I’ve titled this post “Two Poetic Peas in a Pod,” because the similarities between the poems are quite uncanny. Both are entitled “Shelling Peas,” both refer to fond childhood memories with grandmothers, both contain references to little boats from children’s literature, and both are written in seven stanzas. To top it off, both poets live in New Jersey (the Garden State), and their first names contain five letters (“e” + double consonant + “y”). I mean, what are the chances?!
Maybe when it comes to pea poems, there’s this gigantico cosmic pod that all poets share, some freaky pea collective unconscious they tap into. When you consider peas, it makes perfect sense. Except for The Princess and the Pea, they rarely go anywhere alone; they’re definitely social vegetables who like to hang in groups. One thing for sure, both of these poems are excellent — wonderful examples of the power of food to trigger vivid memories. Each reveals the poet’s unique sensibility and it’s interesting to see where their emotional journeys took them. I’d like to thank Kelly Fineman and Penny Harter for allowing me to post their poems and for providing a little backstory. Of course my curiosity was peaqued (sorry) — why peas? why seven stanzas?, etc. Now I want to find a porch swing or vintage dinette table and shell some peas of my own!
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman
Shelling peas after a day at the farmer’s market, I am transported
to one of three mismatched chairs at the formica dinette table
in my grandmother’s postage-stamp kitchen,
trying to keep pace with her, my small efforts no match
for the experience in her old hands.
I pop the stem of a pea pod back,
pull the string down the outside curve,
unzipping a jacket, only to find
a row of fat green pearl buttons inside.
Pea pods are the oysters of the garden –
inside some pods, a string of perfect pearls
in others, disappointment.
Pulling a string along the inside curve of a pea pod,
I create Thumbelina’s canoe.
On first opening the outside curve of a pod,
I spy one row – a steady green caterpillar;
opening further, the hinge unclasps:
every other pea held to opposite sides
of this green womb by a tiny umbilicus.
Unzipping pods to strip reveal their insides,
I think about Charles Darwin:
Here three are fat and one is left unformed;
there, seven peas crowd so tightly their sides are flat,
blocks in a row that do not wish to separate.
Opening the last one, peas burst out;
avoiding my bowl, my hands,
they scatter four feet away on the floor.
The cat lies in wait to strike them.
I feel that I should write thank-you note
To the compost-bound empty husks:
Dear mother pods,
You have given me your children.
I had to pry them loose from the slight green cords
that bound them to you, through which
you gave them life and nurtured them.
Your job now over, I consign you to the compost heap.
Please know that before you can decay,
I will have eaten your children
dressed only with butter, salt and some pepper.
Copyright © 2010 Kelly Ramsdell Fineman. All rights reserved.
Kelly: I came home from the local farmer’s market with fresh peas and sat down at the table to shell them. The house was very quiet and only Mojo was keeping me company. My mind was wandering a bit as I shelled, and some very concrete images and phrases started to pop into my head, so I grabbed a notebook and started jotting them all down in a sort of list. “Thumbelina’s boat” was one entry. A rather detailed memory of performing the same task in my grandmother’s kitchen, complete with a rather comprehensive description of her formica tabletop, was another. I ended up with something like eleven different entries, some long, some quite short.
Initially, I planned on writing one poem using the strongest image or concept, but I found that several of the ideas and images called to me, so I decided to take a page from Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and other poems I’ve read or heard in which poets have numbered their stanzas. In the end, some of the observations I’d made got combined together or shifted around while others got chucked — et voilà: “Shelling Peas”, in seven numbered stanzas.
by Penny Harter
for my mother
We’re shelling peas, gently rocking on the swing
that hangs on chains from the roof of the porch
at my grandparents’ house.
I’m four years old, wedged between Mother and Nana.
Singing as we swing, I balance a metal pot on my knees
as peas rattle into it from their nimble hands.
Newly picked from the garden out back, the pods are still
warm from the sun. I take pleasure in the sudden give
along each seam, the stream of peas into my waiting palm.
Now and then I eat a handful, sweet-bitter on my tongue,
savoring their rawness, the scent of earth, the mystery
of taste revealed as I crunch their hard round bodies.
Feet not touching the floor, eyes even with the lattice-work
under the porch railing, I sway and dream in the shifting
light and shade of a long summer afternoon.
The owl and the pussycat went to sea / in a beautiful pea-green boat,
my mother recites to me at bedtime, her weight on the side of my bed,
her voice almost chanting this poem she has loved since childhood.
A blessing in my mouth, those pale, hard peas, which I taste
even now as I chew on this memory, hungry for a pea-green boat
I might go out to sea in, trawling for light among the watery stars.
Copyright © 2011 Penny Harter. All rights reserved.
Penny: One of my projects for my residency last January at VCCA was to write poems inspired by my reading my great-great-grandmother’s journal for 1890 in Utica, NY. She wrote it when in her late fifties. She, Eleanor Ecob Morse, was a well-known 19th century painter (still-lifes) as was her husband, Jonathan Bradley Morse (landscapes). It is the only volume to survive from among some 60 journals my mother remembered seeing in her grandmother’s attic when she was a young woman.
Anyway, Eleanor was an avid gardener and loved both fresh vegetables and flowers, often using them as models for her various displays she painted. Reading her accounts of picking both, I began remembering those fresh peas from my grandmother’s garden, and shelling them with my nana and mother on my nana’s front porch in South Orange, NJ. And the poem began. As for the tercets, that’s just the way the poem seemed to want to unfold.
Pretty cool, no? Kelly and Penny, you’re the best pea poets on the planet!
And now, a peas offering:
♥ Aerobatic cloud collector Toby Speed is this week’s Poetry Friday host at The Writer’s Armchair. Zoom on over and check out the full menu of poems and reviews being shared around the blogosphere. Have a terrific weekend and of course,
PEAS BE WITH YOU!
Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.