Today I’m pleased to share a haibun by New Jersey poet Penny Harter, written just two months after she lost her husband Bill to cancer in 2008.
With tomorrow’s full moon and total lunar eclipse, an event ushering in winter’s cold and days when nights are at their longest and darkest, it seems especially fitting to reflect on how we process grief and loss.
For one who is grieving, the darkness seems interminable. What solace can a Long Night’s Moon, which remains in the sky all night and so high above the horizon, offer? Will the ritual of making a familiar soup bring comfort or revelation?
by Penny Harter
Last night when the December moon was closer to the Earth than it had been in years, huge on the horizon, blazing hills and craters, I saw it too late, too high in the sky. Still, I could almost count the peaks that held the sun.
Tonight, after slicing red potatoes, yams, carrots, onions, and garlic into a base of chicken broth; after shaking a delicate rain of basil and tarragon onto the surface and stirring those sweet spices in — while the soup simmered, I threw on a jacket over my nightclothes and ran out to look for the moon. My slippered feet were cold as I searched the sky, wanting to raise my face into white light.
But there was no moon, no glow over the apartment roofs to say it was rising, so I came back in and stirred my soup, raising the ladle to my lips to taste again and again the dark fruits of the Earth.
moon-seeking soup —
my own face reflected
in the broth
~ Copyright © 2010 Penny Harter (Recycling Starlight, Mountains and Rivers Press, Eugene, OR).
After reading Penny’s poignant poem, I of course had to try making her root vegetable soup. Chopping and sautéing the veggies was a calming experience much needed this time of year.
It was my first time using sweet potatoes in soup; I definitely liked their flavor combined with the carrots. Gentle simmering brought about a natural thickening. Overall, a simple, hearty, restorative meal, warm and comforting. The “dark fruits of the Earth” nourish at a very basic level, grounding us in reality, their sweetness offsetting sorrow.
Penny: The “moon-seeking soup” recipe was Bill’s (William J. Higginson) and my root-veggie soup: We used a lo-salt chicken broth base, and then added however many we felt like of peeled, cut, and first sautéed in olive oil:
sweet potatoes or yams, red potatoes, onions, carrots, turnip, garlic, and a dash of red or white wine for good measure. I’d peel and chop and he’d sauté. Then we’d add the spices I mentioned: a goodly shake of basil and tarragon, and two bay leaves, and let it simmer and simmer. It’s a sweet and yummy soup for a cold autumn or winter day.
As I was making it, I was remembering our having made it together — so seeing [only] my own face reflected in the ladle of broth was, in part, acknowledging and beginning to accept my loss. I needed the white light of the moon — but got the Earth which is, after all, in the cosmos.
♥ Here’s a video of Penny speaking to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Jersey Shore this past August. She discusses how writing poetry can help one transcend pain and sorrow, and move to a place of light and healing. She refers not only to the loss of her husband, but also mentions her divorce and the death of both parents in 2003.
♥ See Penny’s other poem, “Shelling Peas,” which previously appeared on Alphabet Soup.
♥ The lovely Robyn Hood Black is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Read, Write, Howl. What mysteries, magic, or madness will make you howl at the moon this weekend?
Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.