Ever have this daydream?
You decide to take a break after writing all morning. When you step outside, instead of your ho-hum suburban neighborhood, you find yourself in one of the most beautiful villages in southern France.
Breathe that bracing air! What a gorgeous, deep blue cloudless sky! Love the quaint cobblestone streets, ivy climbing up ancient brick walls, morning glories spilling out of flower boxes. And crusty baguettes in bicycle baskets!
Mmmmm — what’s that heavenly aroma? Following your nose, you spy a charming boulangerie just around the corner. Your prayers have been answered! Give us this day our daily bread — and we would not object in the least if you’d like to throw in a few French pastries. Mais, oui!
Thanks to the inimitable Barbara Crooker, we can visit the boulangerie of our dreams at this very moment. You have to love a country where food is an art form and bakers are revered, where the universal language of deliciousness brings people closer together. There is no finer way to feed the soul than to savor each bite with passion and gratitude.
Blessed be the breadmakers of la belle France
who rise before dawn to plunge their arms
into great tubs of dough. Blessed be the yeast
and its amazing redoubling. Praise the nimble
tongues of those who gave names to this plenty:
baguette, boule, brioche, ficelle, pain de campagne.
Praise the company they keep, their fancier cousins:
croissant, mille feuille, chausson aux pommes.
Praise flake after golden flake. Bless their saintly
counterparts: Jésuit, religieuse, sacristain, pets de nonne.
Praise be to the grain, and the men who grew it. Bless
the rising up, and the punching down. The great
elasticity. The crust and the crumb. Bless
the butter sighing as it melts in the heat.
The smear of confiture that gilds the plane.
And bless us, too, O my brothers,
for we have sinned, and we are truly hungry.
~ Posted by permission of the author, from Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017).
If I should wish a fruit brought to Paradise, it would certainly be the fig —
~ The Prophet Mohammed
I was staying in a village in southwest France,
trudging up the steep hill to the boulangerie
for my daily baguette. On the way back, I saw
a young woman I’d met the night
before. In her hands, a ripe fig, which
we split. Dark violet chocolate
with a greenish flesh, blood-red pulp,
it opened with a thumbprint’s thrust.
The seeds embroidered our teeth.
I barely knew enough words to thank her,
my mumbled tongue, clenched teeth, dumb
as the stones under our feet. I crunched the grit,
my mouth filled with fruit and new syllables.
Even the fog, lifting from the river, that had
no language of its own, began to speak.
~ posted by permission of the author, from Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017).
Barbara: Both of these poems were written during a writing residency at The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts’ studio in Auvillar, France. I’d been to France many times (my husband worked for Elf, one of the French gas companies), but had never lived and worked there, and bread was among the many things I fell in love with.
I also noticed how many pastries in the boulangeries had religious names, so I embarked on some research (all of it was delicious!) to try as many of them as I could. Thus the poem took on a slightly spiritual flavor, albeit tongue-in-cheek. At home, I’m always depriving myself of carbohydrates in a somewhat futile effort to stay at the same weight, so I think I enjoyed every flake and crumb even more, because of this.
With “Figs,” the poem is also autobiographical, coming out of that sojourn. I’d met the young woman in the poem at a reception the night before, but her English was halting, and my conversational French is about at the level of a kindergartner, so we communicated through food and gesture. Which is a lovely way to “talk,” don’t you think?
Oh, I can see your mouth watering. When reading “Les Boulangers,” were you trying to picture all the different breads and pastries mentioned? Thought so. How about a little visual glossary to whet your appetite even more? Do you have a favorite among these? Bon Appétit!
Both of today’s poems are from Barbara’s seventh poetry collection, Les Fauves (“wild beasts“), just released by C&R Press in January 2017. Sections 1 and 4 feature ekphrastic poems — Barbara’s free flowing ruminations/meditations on paintings by Fauve and post-Impressionist artists like Matisse, Derain, Van Gogh, Dufy, Braque, and Bonnard.
She takes a walk on the wild side in Sections 2 and 3, experimenting with different poetic forms, language and wordplay (bold, intense, evocative). Subjects range from living in France, to amusing observations on grammar/word usage, to aging, food, faith, love, passion, and relationships. It is always a pleasure to see her masterful artistry at work, to revel in her sensual descriptions (ooh-la-la), and to note her awe and gratitude for the beauty in the world. A Matisse quote from the book’s opening poem aptly describes her approach:
From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.
This is a poet free and unleashed; don’t miss this stunning collection!
Tabatha Yeatts is hosting the Roundup at The Opposite of Indifference. Take her a croissant or perhaps a baguette and enjoy the full menu of poetic deliciousness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Mais oui!
Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.