When it comes to Simon and Garfunkel, three things stand out in my memory: hearing “Homeward Bound” for the first time in a soundproof studio, waiting hours for them to arrive at the airport, and attending their 1968 concert in Honolulu.
I was a big S&G fan back in the day, belonged to a fan club whose sole purpose was to meet every rock group that performed in Hawai’i. We haunted airports and hotel lobbies, camped out overnight to score concert tickets, and sometimes got to meet our idols up close and personal at special events.
The Simon and Garfunkel concert remains in the top 5 of all shows attended in my lifetime. It still stands up against today’s large-venue extravaganzas with the big screens, sophisticated sound systems and light shows. There was just something pure, pristine and utterly transformative about those two voices and acoustic guitar. No need for any high tech razzle dazzle when you have good songs and soul-stirring, transcendent harmony.
Lucky me, poet friend and kindred spirit Andrea Potos had the Poetry East Spring 2017 Food Issue sent to me shortly after it came out last year. You can bet I’ve been savoring and feasting on it ever since (thanks again, Andrea!).
This special issue, published by DePaul University, contains 49 poems presented in seven courses (truly the perfect meal), along with seven delectable recipes and a bevy of beautiful fine art paintings.
In the Main Course section, I was especially taken with Faith Shearin’s poem, “A Few Things I Ate.” The conversational style drew me in immediately, and I love how Faith built a captivating narrative with an embellished list of telling details, how she subtly wove in deeper regrets as well as fond memories. It’s wonderful how carefully chosen specifics can be so universally relatable.
Are we not all a product of what we’ve eaten throughout our lives? The countless foods, with their why’s and whens and wherefores, reveal our unique, personal stories.
I thank Faith for permission to share her poem, for answering my questions about it, and for her yummy recipe. Enjoy!
A FEW THINGS I ATE by Faith Shearin
There are a few things I’m sorry I ate: a piece of fried chicken
in an all-night diner that bled when I cut into it,
a soup in an elegant French restaurant where I encountered
a mysterious ring of plastic. Also: a bowl of spaghetti served
with so many long strands of hair I wondered who,
in the kitchen, had gone bald. I’m sorry I ate the fast food
cookies that tasted like paper the same way I am sorry
I let certain men kiss me or hold my hand. I’m especially sorry
I ate a certain hot dog on a train that had been twirling for days
on a lukewarm display. Forgive me for all that cafeteria food
in college: packaged, bland, frozen so long it could not
remember flavor. And, hungry in my dorm, I ate bags
of stale lies from vending machines, once even a pair
of expired Twinkies filled with a terrible chemical cream
I am still digesting. After my daughter was born I bought
so much organic baby food my husband found the jars
everywhere: little glass wishes. One winter I ate exotic fruits
from upscale stores so expensive I might have flown instead
to a distant tropical island. Then, careless, I ate
from containers only my microwave understood. I know
what food is supposed to be but often isn’t; I know
who I might have been if I ate whatever I should have eaten.
Remember the time we ate Ethiopian food and spent
a week dreaming so vividly our real life grew pale?
Or the day we ate so much spice in our Thai food
that our mouths were softer? I’m not sorry I ate
all those ice cream sandwiches from my grandmother’s
freezer and drank those Pepsis with her on the way
to Kmart to buy more pink, plastic toys. She liked
the way sugar made me lively, and anyway,
she was suggesting the possibility of pleasure.
She made a vegetable soup that simmered all day
on the stove: growing deeper, more convincing,
and a carrot cake with cream cheese icing that floated
on my tongue like love. Now I am middle-aged. I am fat
and eating salads or, before bed, talking myself
into rice cakes that taste like despair. My father
is diabetic and must have everything whole wheat
and lean and my sister can’t have any salt. I’m sorry
I ate all that cereal when we first got married,
by myself in the kitchen, the milk pale and worried.
Remember how I covered my fruit with cheese
and mayonnaise? I’m not sorry, whatever
you might say. Then there were the lunches
we ate on the beach, watching the seals
sun themselves: thick chicken sandwiches wrapped
in a foil so silver they must have been valuable.
Freight train, freight train run so fast Freight train, freight train run so fast Please don’t tell what train I’m on They won’t know what route I’ve gone.
So begins one of the most famous folk songs of the twentieth century. Here in America, many of us grew up hearing it on the radio or at music festivals, or maybe even in the classroom.
Though I was familiar with the popular renditions of “Freight Train” by Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez, I never really knew who wrote the song, nor had I heard of African American folk musician, singer and songwriter Elizabeth Cotten before reading this fabulous new picture book.
I’m loving Andrea’s family stories and the celebration of her Greek heritage. I appreciate the nod to domesticity and strong women — matriarchs who passed on their skills and knowledge to each succeeding generation.
Andrea had a very special relationship with her grandmother (Yaya). As I read Andrea’s lyrical depictions of their time together, I can picture them baking, chatting, and laughing in floured aprons, bonding over loaves of bread and batches of cookies. It is easy to feel the love.
Today, I’m honored to feature a poem from Yaya’s Cloth that I’m sure will whet your appetite for more. Andrea has graciously shared a bit of backstory as well as Yaya’s recipe for baklava. And special thanks to her for the wonderful personal photos. Yum!
“This isn’t spaghetti,” my daughter says loudly to the waiter who is pouring the first taste of a fifty-dollar bottle of wine for our host.
And I have to agree. Take me back
to when I hadn’t discovered
sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil
and angel-hair pasta.
Hadn’t begun to refine my pork roast past,
or stay cool within my nodding circle
of low cholesterol friends.
I’ve learned the best restaurants,
sigh at the price of saffron,
accept only thin buttery lettuce.
Why should I shun the diner’s stout coffee
and mashed potatoes from a box,
and frequent instead the new coffee bar
with raspberry flavour and mocha and Java,
those little brittle Italian breads,
My mom made sauce
red and sweet from cans of Contadina
and spread it out, ladled it out
on thick, straight spaghetti noodles.
Not one of us said, “Pasta.”
She made meatloaf and potatoes,
used garlic salt in plastic shakers,
served fluffy, white bread,
the kind that stuck in wads
to the roof of my mouth.
Big meals in big pots
served over the counter,
fat meatballs, mostly bread.
This was food, quick, filling,
not savored. Our due.
We held up our plates
for mom to fill once more
before we abandoned the table
for the urgent games of dusk,
hide and seek, and pick-up basketball
under the street light.
My daughter knows
the emperor has no clothes,
and for fifteen dollars an entree,
we should recognize the sauce.
The richness of our need,
the effortless nature of eating what could fill,
where is it?
I will listen to my daughter,
join her disdain for spaghetti
that is not spaghetti.
My life is a closed circle
the love of meatballs always on the periphery.
You want some now, don’t you? Well, here you go. Help yourself!
This poem got me thinking about how complicated eating has become. We didn’t have “pasta” growing up, just good old spaghetti. Remember when it was either white bread or brown bread, instead of whole grain, multigrain, seven grain, cracked wheat, honey wheat, German dark wheat, oatmeal, fifteen grain, with or without seeds?
Just like designer clothes, there’s designer food. Cool people only eat eggs laid by liberated chickens, drink water bottled in France, and swear by “non-GMO,” “organic,” “grass-fed,” “sustainable,” “100% natural.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all on the side of healthy eating, being kind to the planet, and I know first hand about food allergies. I just wonder about people who go “gluten free” not from necessity, but fad. These days, it’s even hard to invite people over — everyone’s on some kind of “special diet”: lowfat, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, no artificial colors or preservatives, paleo, low carb, low calorie, low (or no) sugar. Sigh.
How I yearn for simpler times! I don’t want to worry about whether what I’m eating is politically correct, nor do I want to pay a fortune for three teensy but artfully arranged slices of tenderloin on a sleek white plate in a fancy restaurant. I don’t want to fall into the “food as status symbol” trap.
Just give me comfort food, plain and simple, preferably prepared by my mother. Her spaghetti rates pretty high on my list. She never used a recipe for her sauce, and it came out a little different each time. But it always tasted so good. After all, the best spice for any dish is love.
Speaking of spaghetti, I do believe it’s the great equalizer. Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, spaghetti always hits the spot and takes you right back. Just ask these folks:
What’s the best spaghetti you’ve ever had? 🙂
The wonderful and talented Jone MacCulloch is hosting the Roundup at Check It Out. Noodle on over to view the complete menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Are you eating spaghetti this weekend? 🙂