~This poem was previously published in St. Katherine Review (2013).
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.
~This poem was previously published in Nimrod (2012).
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.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
"Les Boulangers": In September 2011, I was fortunate enough to have a residency at le Moulin à Nef, Auvillar, France, which is a studio owned by The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, where I've also been a Fellow. I loved everything about living and working in France, and the bread was truly amazing. I noticed that there were a fair number of pastries with religious overtones (see line ten), so I embarked on a "study" where I searched for and sampled some of them. I confess I loved every bite. (Disclaimer: pets de nonne is a wee bit naughty.) When I was younger, and before my son, who has autism, was placed on a gluten-free diet, I used to make bread, a sensory experience bar none. The baking of bread without gluten is best left to the professionals, so I don't do this anymore, but writing this poem brought back all of its sensual pleasures. Hemingway wrote, "Paris is a moveable feast," and so is la France profonde. . . .
"Figs" was also written on that residency, and begins with the literal, a description of something that happened there. Living with a child with autism has given me a new appreciation for the literal. . . . But then it veers off into new territory, struggles with language: my own, in a different country (I can shop and order in a restaurant, but when it comes to conversation, I'm on the level of a four year old), the wrestle to convert experience into poetry, and my son's difficulties navigating the world without functional language (I realize this last part is implied metaphor). . . .
ABOUT BARBARA CROOKER
Barbara Crooker’s poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including The Bedford Introduction to Literature and Good Poems American Places. She has six full-length books of poetry, including Small Rain (Purple Flag Press, 2014) and Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2015), and her work has appeared many times on The Writer's Almanac and Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry. Her website is www.barbaracrooker.com