Do you remember the last Barbara Crooker poem I shared, where her ailing mother refused to eat her food, but demanded marshmallow Peeps?
This craving for sweets seems to be common among the elderly. A good friend of ours with an incurable lung disease would always pick at her dinner, but had no trouble at all polishing off a big piece of coconut pie. I could always make her smile just by saying,”crème brûleé.”
When I saw my mother in Hawai’i last month, I noted her diminished appetite and drastic weight loss. She did enjoy my Christmas cookies, though, along with chocolate truffles, bread pudding, cranberry muffins, apple and lemon meringue pie, Chantilly cake. No coaxing needed when it came to dessert.
In “Sugar,” another poem from Barbara’s luminous collection, Gold (Cascade Books, 2013), she ponders what this craving for sweets might mean. What do all of us hunger for the most?
Barbara: Something that I observed about both my parents in their last year was that they craved sugar. Normally healthy eaters, suddenly bowls of candy started appearing by their arm rests. So I started thinking about this, and the poem was the result. It seemed to me, at the end of my mother’s life, that there wasn’t much I could do to stem the tide that was slowly ebbing out. But I could bring treats, like that sundae. Boy, did the workers at Friendly’s think this was an odd request!
* * *
by Barbara Crooker
My mother is a hungry ghost. She comes to me
in dreams, asking, Where’s the applesauce?
The kind you make? Cooked with the skins on,
whirled with cinnamon and nutmeg, swirled
through a food mill, smooth fruit separated
from skins, cores, seeds. Shouldn’t this sweetness
exist in the afterlife? I’ve heard that’s what angels
crave those times they’re glimpsed, partly visible,
a rustle of wings, an opening in the air. Apparently,
they shimmer, made of gossamer and light.
We always long for what we don’t have,
and they yearn to be incarnate, to know the hunger
of the tongue. Filaments of cotton candy, fistfuls
of sugar, the long slow drip of honey and molasses.
I tried to sweeten my mother’s last days, bringing
her a deconstructed sundae — coffee ice cream
in one cup, hot fudge in another, whipped cream
in a third. But her hunger is not appeased. She still
longs for this world, its confectionary
splendor. She would, if she could, open her mouth
like a bird or a baby, and let me spoon it in.
~ posted by permission of the author, copyright © 2013 Barbara Crooker. All rights reserved.
* * *
What a gorgeous poem! I especially like the lyrical mention of angels “made of gossamer and light.”
Sweetness is the first taste we are exposed to as infants, and the last flavor to go once our taste buds begin to diminish after the age of 70. In that sense, it frames our lives on earth — why would we not eternally desire it?
As the parent becomes the child, she wants what she first knew, what she’s known the longest, to revert to the “confectionary splendor” that defines childhood and happiness.
Lucky for us, Barbara has generously offered to share two recipes her mother especially enjoyed. One is for the applesauce mentioned in the poem, and the other is for a cookie they liked to make together. I imagine both recipes were flavored with much love, and continue to engender great memories.
* * *
16 apples, quartered and cored (skins on)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Simmer apples in one inch of water until soft.
Sieve through a food mill to remove skins.
Stir sugar and spices together, add to cooked apples in the pan. Bring back to a boil to dissolve the sugar, cool and freeze in small containers.
* * *
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2-1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cream butter and sugar.
Blend in the rest of the ingredients. Gather into two balls, cover and wrap, chill.
Take out of the fridge, bring back to room temp, kneading with your hands to soften.
Put into cookie press and press out, using the #5 star shape.
Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 6-9 minutes until set, but not brown.
* * *
The lovely and talented Tara is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at A Teaching Life. Scamper on over to sample the full platter of tasty poetic delights on this week’s menu. Don’t forget to share and enjoy a little bit of sweetness this weekend!
Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.