friday feast: moon-seeking soup by penny harter

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.

photo via Miss Mae

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?

Moon-Seeking Soup
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:

credit: Michael Dylan Welch

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.

64 thoughts on “friday feast: moon-seeking soup by penny harter

  1. Jama, I just loved this. Tanita’s heart hurt, but I felt it in my stomach. I want to watch the video, but am going to give whatever’s between heart and belly a rest and come back later.

    Thank goodness for poetry and soup. And you.


    1. The video is about 32 minutes long, so you’d need a nice quiet span of time. I did enjoy hearing Penny’s voice for the first time and her very sensitive, insightful thoughts about coping with grief and loss.


    2. And thank you, Jeannine, for your moving comment. If heart and stomach responded, I am humbled, and it is probably a good idea for you to wait a bit before watching the video. However, I hope the video will also be meaningful to you.


  2. Thank you, Jama and Peggy for this lovely post. My husband and I have been looking for some good soup recipes lately. A thick soup made with the “dark fruits of the earth” sounds like one hearty enough to serve on a winter’s eve.


    1. We really enjoyed this soup — the “recipe” is very open-ended, allowing for the cook to select favorite veggies and reflect on whatever needs some think time while making it. You can make a little or a lot, whatever you fancy, and drink some of the wine like Julia Child does, in addition to adding it to the pot :).


    2. Elaine, thank you! And scroll down to see my comment—you can also add parsnip and peeled, chopped apple for sweetening. And when it’s done, I sometimes take a ladle or two and put it into the blender for thickening further, then stir that back into the soup. Hope you enjoy!


  3. So connected with time right now; the eclipse tonight. “Still, I could almost count the peaks that held the sun.” Here I see the positive looking out, despite the grief. It’s a beautiful poem, holding all the fruits of the earth so dear, like holding her husband. Thank you for so much about this poem and about the poet. I loved every bit, and went back to the ‘peas’ too. I wrote about green beans earlier in the year, so the peas meant a good memory too.


    1. Glad you enjoyed the poem, Linda. The mourner’s earnest search for light is quite heartbreaking, isn’t it? Find a way out of the dark, out of the pain of loss. How to remain on earth when the loved one is in the heavens?


  4. though they occasionally roll their eyes when i say it, i always tell my girls that any given soup i am making will heal whatever ailment or malady they are currently suffering. one of these days they’ll realize i’m not joking, that i make them very specific soups, and that they do, indeed, heal.

    like poems, our faces are always reflected in the things we make to nourish our bodies and spirits.


    1. a poet and writer who makes soup for his daughters! *swoon* (would you like to adopt me?) 🙂

      nothing heals like soup. thanks for the lovely comment!


    1. Oh Robyn, bless you for your kind words and for loving my work. And I agree that without Jama’s wonderful blog, neither my work nor the work of all the other poets she gifts with her comments and sharing would be out there in the world this much, so thank you both!


  5. This is beautiful, Jama. Thank you for the reminder that it’s not all about shopping, parties and twinkling lights this time of year. It’s also, quite often, a time of grief — and, hopefully, comfort, reflection and insight.


    1. The holidays are difficult for many. Penny sent this haibun to me during the summer, but I held onto it until now, which I think is the right time to share it.


  6. Jama, thank you, thank you. I want to read more of Penny’s work and will listen to the video later. I love the title Moon-seeking Soup and the line “raising the ladle to my lips to taste again and again the dark fruits of the Earth.” Grounding is so often what we need during times of grief.


    1. And thank you, Joyce, for your thanks. If you visit my web site and blog you can read more of my work. Work on the web site stops shortly after 2008 because my husband was my web-master and had some programs on his computer I did not—and did not even begin to know how to use. So then I started a blog several summers ago to keep up with publication news–and some personal news now and then. The web site has a link to the blog.

      Yes, grounding really helps, and thanks so much for liking that line. I loved it too when it came to me—a gift.


  7. All of you who have responded to my haibun and maybe the video, bless you, bless you. It is important to remember to look for light even in the dark days, whether of the planet or the heart.

    And Jama, re-reading the recipe, and noting that you say the recipe is open-ended, I realize that I left out two key ingredients when I wrote the poem— which I will add now: parsnips and a peeled and cut-up apple—the sweetness of them makes a lovely contrast to the turnips. Enjoy! And may you all find light in these darkening days as we approach the Solstice.



    1. I love parsnips — and have never tried adding apple to soup, so the next time I make it will be yet another adventure :). I admit to passing on the turnips this time (not among my favorite vegetables), but I think their flavor, balanced by the sweetness of the other veggies, will make for a nicer layering of flavors. Thank you so much again for sharing your haibun!


    1. Your wife must make some very special soups! I like the idea of being courted by soup. Surely there’s a poem there somewhere?

      Thanks for visiting, Alan!


    2. Hi Alan, glad to hear soup is special for you, too! And nice to hear from you. I think Bill courted me with omelets. But soup was next on our list. Good to hear from you—and thanks for deciding to try our soup!


  8. An old poem, but perhaps a parallel to your’s, Penny. And that is a lovely moon
    out and about these nights.

    Elisavietta Ritchie

    The soup cries out for roots:
    Turnips, parsnips, even
    a clumsy rutabaga.

    Again we test the scumming broth
    of Easter’s turkey bones
    in my copper cauldron.

    But this is spring. Saturday
    I cleared out stones, planted seeds,
    cubed potatoes rife with sprouts,

    buried them in one last row.
    Then the news came:
    My father just died.

    Tonight I mince last winter’s parsley
    with garlic, onions, cabbage,
    bay leaves from the Christmas wreath.

    My father often told me how a soldier,
    young and hungry, asked shelter
    from a peasant babushka.

    “I have no food,” she warned.
    Then from his pack he took a pebble,
    dropped it in her pot.

    Soon their soup was bubbling with
    unearthed miracles of vegetables,
    one strayed hen. They ate all week.

    Tonight Ann offers carrots, David — two
    potatoes, Sergei – beets, and calls it borscht.
    I throw in onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes.

    “Each guest is sent to us by God–”
    an old Caucasian song my father sang.
    Now our soup pot simmers high

    as it simmered in his house,
    overflows into our bowls.
    He must have willed a stone to me.

    [earlier verse version in ANTIETAM REVIEW; prose version in FLYING TIME: STORIES & HALF-STORIES, Signal Books, © 1992 & 1996 by Elisavietta Ritchie Reprinted in Kings Estate Press 2005]


    1. Thanks so much for sharing your poem, Elisavietta! (Your first name is a poem in itself.) LOVE it. What a beautiful complement to Penny’s haibun — one for Spring, one for Winter.

      “Each guest is sent to us by God” . Friends are our greatest blessing, and sharing is the best flavoring for any soup. 🙂


    2. Hi Elisavietta, thanks for sharing your lovely poem. I love the metaphor of the stone—perfect for the poem’s ending. I love cabbage-based soups, too. We used to make a cabbage and potato soup.


  9. Hi Penny,
    In the realm of the cosmos, the notes are always here, the music comes and goes.

    raptor circles
    meditating boy
    pray or prey. . .


  10. The next time I’m feeling low, I’ll remember to read some soup and sip some poetry ❤

    As always, just beautiful, Penny!


  11. lovely poem Penny,

    I love the idea of adding yams, or even apples. If you enjoy stuffed pork chops,
    try adding apples and white raisens to the stuffing and do not scimp with the


    ps: you and Bill are always in my thoughts.


    1. Hi Gene, thanks so much for responding—and your kind comment about my poem. I haven’t eaten pork chops in years, but do like the idea of adding white raisins and apple to stuffing—and of course, butter :). . . Thanks, too, for thinking of Bill and me. I hope you are doing well.


  12. It is warming to read the responses! I would be so happy about this, if i were you!
    i have a squash soup recipe that has apple in it.
    the picture almost looks creamy. reminds me of another recipe with similar ingredients that also boasts peanut butter!
    Moon-seeking soup.
    i have a funny take on this. you know the old personal ads – single woman seeking single man or some such?
    i thought of the moon actually shining in the window and looking for the soup, like they were meant to be together that night!


    1. Hi Barbara, thanks for your comment. I am very happy that the poem (haibun) touched so many readers’ lives. And I’m honored.

      Bill and I also made a squash soup and used apple, too. Yummy! The soup can be creamy—the sweet potatoes do that, and the red potatoes, too. Plus I often ladle some of it into the blender, blend, and then put blended soup back into the pot for more thickening.

      I like your take on “moon-seeking soup” as a personal ad. I bet the moon would appreciate some warm soup once in a while—or maybe even want to see its own face in the broth.


  13. probably one of my personal bests and one of the last poems that Bill edited of
    mine Penny:

    Miller’s Pond

    Jacob avoided everything from the start:

    all the easy stuff I could’ve shown him,
    from the saw-tooth edge of an alder leaf,
    to casting a fly rod at Miller’s.

    I never wanted him … perhaps he knew.
    Never could see myself as a parent,
    or felt the need to be a letdown.

    While Linda carried him, I was happy for them
    watching her third finger trace his body;
    squirming in her belly.

    After I delivered him, I held him just so
    brushing back brown hair from his cold, limp-still body,
    and sketched those features that were mine.

    When in thought, I find myself on a bank at Miller’s Pond,
    where mallards dabble, a hooded merganser dives,
    and not until it surfaces
    do I breath.



    1. Dear Gene, I remember this powerful and moving poem. Thanks for sharing it here. I also remember that Bill enjoyed working with you on your writing. That all seems so long ago now, and it was—but the work lives on.


  14. Just got home from the enchanting, eerie movie, Melancholia, and this post really struck a chord (but I can’t say much more as it will ruin the plot!)


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