Step into Maggie Dietz’s “The Yellow House, 1978”

“The kitchen is where we deal with the elements of the universe. It is where we come to understand our past and ourselves.” ~ Laura Esquivel

“Yellow House, Summer Afternoon” by Suzanne Siegel

 

Which room in your house says the most about you?

 

“Washing Dishes” by Deborah DeWit (2010)

 

THE YELLOW HOUSE, 1978
by Maggie Dietz

The kitchen in the house had a nook for eating, a groove
for the broom behind the door and the woman moved through
it like bathing, reaching ladles from drawers, turning to lift

the milk from the refrigerator while still stirring the pudding,
as if the room and everything in it were as intimate to her as her body, as beautiful and worthy of her attention as the elbows

which each day she soothed with rose lotion or the white legs
she lifted, again and again, in turn, while watching television.
To be in that room must be what it was like to be the man

next to her at night, or the child who, at six o’clock had stood
close enough to smell the wool of her sweater through the steam,
and later, at the goodnight kiss, could breathe the flavor of her hair —

codfish and broccoli — and taste the coffee, which was darkness
on her lips, and listen then from upstairs to the water running
down, the mattress drifting down the river, a pale moonmark

on the floor, and hear the clink of silverware — the stars, their distant
speaking — and picture the ceiling — the back of a woman kneeling,
covering the heart and holding up the bed and roof and cooling sky.

~ from Perennial Fall (The University of Chicago Press, 2006)

 

Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935)

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The kitchen (no surprise) is my favorite room in the house, with the dining room a close second. Someone wise once said that the kitchen is the heart of the home — so very true. It’s the place where family and guests gather most often, where delicious dishes (and sometimes ingenious ideas) are cooked up, where news of the day is shared, where we read our mail and shine our shoes.

It’s a place of culinary triumph and catastrophe, of hopes, laughter, test runs, and occasionally, bravery (yikes, yeast!). Whenever I make one of my mother’s or aunt’s recipes, I hear their voices cheering me on. I’m grateful for good times past, and the chance to make some new memories steeped in their legacies.

 

“Yellow Saucepan” by Felicity House

 

I have a particular fondness for our current kitchen because it’s the first one I designed myself from scratch. Nothing fancy, mind you, but much thought was given to work stations, varying counter heights, storage spaces, ease of maintenance, how I envisioned myself “moving” in the room. The maple cabinets are sage green and pale yellow milk paint, the island is natural cherry, and we have a black and white checkered floor (much like what’s pictured in Deborah DeWit’s painting).

But it’s not only my kitchen — I like yours too. If I visited your house, it would be the room I would be most curious to see, because it would tell me the most about you. 🙂

 

“The Spanish Kitchen” by Sergio Sanchez

 

The first two stanzas of Maggie Dietz’s poem drew me in right away. I do think most women — at least the ones who like to cook — have an intimate knowledge of almost every square inch of their kitchens. When they’re totally “in the flow” of cooking (which sometimes requires improvisation) or baking (with its streamlined precision), there’s a beautiful brand of zen to speak of. I appreciate the nod to domesticity in an age when women are expected to do it all.

 

“The Kitchen Maid” by William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941)

 

I love all the telling, sensory details in Dietz’s poem, from the pudding stirring to the child smelling the “codfish and broccoli” flavor of the woman’s hair, to the “clink of silverware,” to the final image of “the back of a woman kneeling,/covering the heart and holding up the bed and roof and cooling sky.”

I like thinking that a favorite room is an extension of self, a reflection of personality. Here’s to thriving in one’s element, feeling empowered by it. There’s definitely something golden about being the mistress of one’s domain, wherever that may be.

 

“Tea, Yellow House” by Keiko Ogawa

 

“The Right Word” by Deborah DeWit (2007)

 

What struck you most about this poem?

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📕 BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNERS! 📗

*rubs hands together*

We are doubly excited because we have two winners to announce today!

Thanks to everyone for entering and leaving such nice comments at both posts. 🙂

 

Are you ready?

*drum roll, please*

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For a signed copy of THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH, the winner is:

🐊 AMY MERRILL at Mrs. Merrill’s Book Break!! 🐊

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And the winner of a brand new copy of HOME BUILDERS is:

ELIZABETH  C. at Literature and Limes!!

WooHoo!

CONGRATULATIONS AMY AND ELIZABETH!!

🎉🎉🎉👏👏👏🎈🎈🎈

 

♥️ Big thanks to B.J. Lee for donating a signed copy of her new Gator book, and to Penguin/Random House for a brand new copy of Home Builders.

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The lovely and talented Jone MacCulloch is hosting the Roundup at Check It Out. Mosey on over for the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Have a nice weekend!

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Roger Duvoisin (One Step, Two, written by Charlotte Zolotow, 1955)

 


Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

51 thoughts on “Step into Maggie Dietz’s “The Yellow House, 1978”

  1. When you write “The kitchen (no surprise) is my favorite room in the house, with the dining room a close second” I could have written the same. In fact, I don’t know why we pay for a WHOLE house when we barely use the other parts! Love the pictures you added!

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  2. Love all those images you added (and the description of your kitchen) — beautiful. The poem has wonderful sensory details. I was stumped by the codfish and broccoli, though, when everything else was so luscious.

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  3. Lovely poem, jama. The kitchen is definitely where I spend a good portion of my time, but I think my favorite room is my dining room. It’s pretty and finished and a joy to spend time in. The kitchen needs oodles of expensive work done, but I do agree that it is also a gathering space for my family, so it has it’s own loveliness.

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  4. What a perfect dose of gorgeousness and comfort to start a day.. loved every word – Maggie Dietz’s and yours – and picture. (Well, like Tabatha, I did find the codfish a wee surprise – but life is full of sharp interruptions!)
    “a pale moonmark/on the floor” – Siggghhh. XO

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  5. It’s a beautiful poem, Jama, love “holding up the bed and roof and cooling sky”. My kitchen is small, but there is a room right by it that I’ve made into my office, books surrounding. My mother-in-law had a large kitchen with a sofa where we all crowded on (& in) until she made us all leave while she concentrated on her cooking. But, it was a favorite place. This past Christmas time, my son & daughter-in-law helped me move out a table in this ‘office’ & add a small sofa, & yes, where everyone tried to crowd in to be near the kitchen cooking! I do have a ‘rest of the house’, but this poem especially brought back those old wonderful memories, the ones we can now make again. Thanks!

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    1. Your family really seems to love couches! Love that your MIL had one right in her kitchen!! She must have had an older home before the advent of adjoining family rooms — open plans that allow family members to be near the cooking without actually being right in the cook’s way. Your adjoining office sounds perfect!

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      1. That’s wonderful to hear, Kate. You’re right, as I think back, I can remember more than one that meant something special. Thank you for telling me.

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  6. A home just doesn’t happen because you move in with all your stuff. A home is created with the love the family shows to one another. A warm and lovely kitchen where family can sit at a table and discuss hopes, fears, problems and solutions. Discussions over tea, coffee, juice, water, cookies, cakes or crackers calms the world we face. Other family members who don’t live in your house, and friends are welcomed to come and join the talks. Joy, laughter, and tears are shared. I’ll put the kettle on. We have plenty of water. Beautiful post Jama!

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  7. I’ve always loved kitchens, too, where people naturally gravitate for the most heartfelt conversations. I’d love to have room for a couch in ours! What struck me about the poem was the concept of “everything in it … as intimate to her as her body” and the way it honored the woman’s work. Gorgeous post!

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  8. What an appropriate kitchen poem and wonderful color of yellow during these cloudy, cold days of winter. Life is definitely the kitchen. My Auntie Mary’s kitchen was always full of warmth, tintilating smells, and conversation. My grandmother Baba had a garden of African violets in her kitchen while she prepared soup after soup. My own kitchen has warm terra cotta colors with accents of anything full of color. I now make soup after soup. My book club always seems to want to stay in kitchens rather than go to a living room to talk. Here’s to the Kitchen and the colors of spring to come!!! Thanks, Jama!

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    1. Love that you’re making a lot of soups, Tamara! And that garden of violets in your Baba’s kitchen sounds wonderful. We couldn’t certainly use more bright colors on these gloomy days. Hope the sun comes back soon.

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  9. I met Maggie in 2001 when I was a participant in the first Summer Poetry Institute for Teachers–a collaboration between the Favorite Poem Project and the Boston University School of Education. It was a wonderful week!

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  10. I liked a few parts to her poem, first, “as if the room and everything in it were as intimate to her as her body,” creating a bond between her body and the room; and how the last stanza begins to leave reality and fly off into a “mattress drifting down the river” and ending with this centering thought “covering the heart and holding up the bed and roof and cooling sky.” I also like all the yellow in this post–it’s used so well hear, along with all your images, thanks Jama!

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  11. Such an enriching post, Jama! I know I will come back this weekend to peruse it. The poem is wonderful… At first reading I made personal connections to “could breathe the flavor of her hair,” “and taste the coffee, which was darkness on her lips,” and “hear the clink of silverware.” Each one stirring vivid memories. I’m with you, the kitchen with breakfast nook is the best room. Sometimes I bake or put on a roast just to fill it with wonderful smells. I love it when my kids and grandkids walk into my back door and say, “Ah, it smells so good in here!”

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    1. The clink of silverware was certainly one of my favorite sensory details from this poem. I imagine all kinds of good magic happen in your writing room. 🙂

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  12. Oh, this is simply a beautiful post and it hit me hard today, bringing tears. I’ve been swamped in nostalgia lately, missing my mother and grandmother and spent time this morning writing about the latter at work in her kitchen. My strongest memories of those women are kitchen bound. Maggie Dietz’s poem is so rich, and I love the intimacy of the beginning. Later she takes me back to that time of listening to the universe turning safely about me as I dropped off to sleep. Perhaps that’s why my favorite lines are: “and hear the clink of silverware — the stars, their distant
    speaking —”
    Your focus on kitchens reminded me of Kate Wolf’s song, “Trumpet Vine.” Do you know her? Here’s a quote from that song:
    “Now it seems the truest words I ever heard from you
    Were said at kitchen tables we have known
    ‘Cause somehow in that warm room, with coffee on the stove
    Our hearts were really most at home”
    Thank you for this post.

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    1. Glad this poem moved you, Molly, and thanks so much for pointing me to Kate Wolf’s song and sharing those lines, which are beautiful and perfect! I wasn’t familiar with “Trumpet Vine” and just now listened to it on YouTube. There’s nothing I love more than voice + acoustic guitar. Some how in my folk music ramblings, I never became familiar with Kate, except hearing her name mentioned by Nanci Griffith when she performed “Across the Great Divide” (a song that brings tears to “my” eyes). All those times I heard the song I didn’t take the time to learn more about Kate’s other music and her tragically short life. So thank you for the gift of Kate this morning!

      What struck you about Maggie’s poem are the same things I love so much about it — the beginning is very intimate, a “universe” in the small, familiar world of the kitchen — and then later it gradually spirals outward to encompass moon and stars and the universe beyond. It’s empowering to know that a woman can make a world wherever she goes.

      I’ve included Kate’s “Trumpet Vine” video here for those like me who might not have heard it before:

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  13. “Yellow House, Summer Afternoon” conjured up lovely memories of visiting my great aunt and grandparents on Peaks Island in Maine, where my father grew up. Such a warm, sunny image. The entirety of “The Yellow House” brought me back to my maternal grandmother’s kitchen in South Portland, ME, where I remember making popcorn balls with her as if it were yesterday. We popped the corn in a hand-cranked popper on the front burner. We then added a molasses-based syrup and formed the balls with our small, sticky hands. Such a treat! What an evocative post, Jama. Thank you! — Christie @ https://wonderingandwondering.wordpress.com/

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    1. Thanks for sharing that wonderful popcorn ball making memory, Christie! Didn’t realize you have Maine roots. Beautiful state; hope to return someday. Have never been to Peaks Island.

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  14. I don’t have the kitchen of my dreams, but I do have dreams of a better kitchen. I would like one that flows into the family room and dining room without barriers, so that it’s one harmonious whole. That way we could always be together. Instead I have separate little rooms, but that has been handy for three kids who practice music, I have to admit. I can cook over a campfire, so I don’t need a fancy place to cook. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want one. 😉

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    1. Our kitchen isn’t connected to a family room — we purposely designed it that way, but we did make the kitchen large enough so people could gather (we have a see-through fireplace on one wall with 2 wing chairs).

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  15. So much to love in this post! It would be fun to have a virtual kitchen tour amongst us Poetry Friday peeps — sharing photos of our kitchens!

    We have a very small house, but no no matter what, when we have people over, they all cram into the kitchen!

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  16. First, I am traveling into each & every image your share, they are so calming & quietly joyful. I especially love the last – the yellow cottage – as that is what I call our Little Yellow Cottage (tho’ it is of one floor.) Secondly I love the thought that this poem you share is of the late 1970s, when it could have been of the 40s or earlier. And finally, I am drawn to the way the poet weaves the smooth flow or the kitchen work with the soothing feelings of childhood elsehwere in the house, especially with the nighttime, sleeptime. It’s such a perfect post & so full of your love of Kitchen, Jama. To me, reading it & looking at these images is more wonderful than all the waterfall, kitten photos that float by in social media, much as I enjoy them, too. More appreciations to you.

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  17. I love the Kate Wolf music – new to me, too, appreciations for your adding this in comments. (Benefits on arriving to posts later than other Poetry Friday pals . . . . And I love traveling into every image you’ve posted, so calming & centered they are. My heart especially zinged at the yellow cottage by Roger Duviosin for wonderful Charlotte Zolotow’s book – it makes me think of our cottage (tho it’s one-floor) which we call Little Yellow Cottage. The Maggie Ditez poem first grabs me, after reading it, for the year – 1978! It has the feel of the earlier years of your images selected, like 1940s or even earlier. And my favorite part of it is how she continually weaves the concrete details of the mother (aunt, grandmother, sister) at loving work in the kitchen to the feeling of calm joy of the child in the house. Appreciations for this soul-sharing, nourishing post.

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    1. So glad you like the poem and images I shared in the post, Jan. And isn’t Kate’s music beautiful? Duvoisin is certainly one of my favorite children’s book illustrators, so of course I had to add his yellow house to the post. 🙂 I agree with everything you said about Maggie’s poem — wonderful concrete, sensory details and that feeling of safety and comfort with the child at the end. Life affirming stuff!

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  18. Beautiful! words, poem, art. I think my favorite line in the poem is, “a groove
    for the broom behind the door and the woman moved through
    it like bathing” The groove behind the door makes me think that a special place has been worn away for the broom–and moving like bathing–well–I just like that image.

    My apartment has a big open kitchen/living space, which I love. I love my kitchen, and I love that when my family or friends are here, we can all be together cooking, sitting, eating, or whatever.

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  19. Oh I have to agree the kitchen is the hive of my home. I could relate to every word of Maggie Dietz’s poem, but I really related to two parts: “…as if the room and everything in it were as intimate to her as her body, as beautiful and worthy of her attention as the elbows which each day she soothed with rose lotion…”
    This line just reminded me of my own mother.

    “…at the goodnight kiss, could breathe the flavor of her hair —codfish and broccoli — and taste the coffee, which was darkness
    on her lips..”
    And this line, because it reminded me of me.

    Beautiful post!

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