Sunday, October 31, 2010

Seamus Heaney and James Wright

I'm in the mood for a bit of juxtaposition.  Neither Seamus Heaney nor James Wright are among my great favorites, but each has his moments.  I do keep telling myself I ought to read Heaney's translation of Beowulf, but I fear my ambitions outpace my diligence.

Both of these poems are "epiphany" poems.  I go back and forth over whether I find such poems charming or tiresome.  The final revelations never seems sufficiently earned to me, which makes them feel ersatz and hokey.  And yet.

Seamus Heaney
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

A Blessing
James Wright

Just off the Highway to Rochester, Minnesota
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Malted Vanilla Tart

This is a bit of a lazy recipe. I bought some cream cheese a month or two ago with vague ambitions of making danishes, but danishes only stay fresh for a day or two, and I doubt the capacity of my two-person household to consume an entire batch of danishes. I suppose I could be munificent and send the extras into my husband’s lab (as I often do with cookies), but I’m not sure they’d travel. Also, danishes sound like kind of a pain, and lately, I’ve been eschewing complicated, difficult recipes in favor of less convoluted alternatives.

This recipe includes a pastry crust, so it might not fall within most people’s definitions of “easy,” but I cannot emphasize enough the extent to which the art of making a pastry crust can be easily mastered with practice. I don’t even bother using ice water to bind the dough most of the time – I just use cold tap and am careful to be gentle when stirring.

So this isn’t the sort of recipe over which one ought to lose any sleep. However, the truly crust-averse among y0u could consider crushing chocolate graham crackers, adding a bit of butter, and using that for the tart’s bottom layer. I might have done so myself if I ever had graham crackers laying about my pantry.

But ought I bother? you might be thinking to yourself. Is it flavorful, this uncomplicated tart? I think it’s quite lovely. Its texture is somewhere between that of custard and cheesecake, and the flavors are simple, agreeable, and complementary. It’s not the most exciting thing to ever emerge from my oven, but husband and I polished it off with no difficulty. One would be hard-pressed to truly spoil a dessert combining the flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and malt.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Simple Fudgy Brownies

I didn’t use to be a big brownie-eater, but lately, I’ve been more amenable to the charms of America’s favorite bar cookie. You can make them in one bowl (though you do obtain better texture if you use two); they need not be painstakingly scooped and molded into dollops of dough like regular cookies; they’re easy; and lately, I’ve come to recognize that they’re eminently satisfying.

I’ve avoided brownies for their simplicity. When I bake cookies, I want them to be overflowing with chocolate chips, raisins, coconut flakes, toasted nuts … whatever it is with which I’ve chosen to embellish them. Brownies aren’t so amenable to hodgepodge baking. You can throw in chocolate chips or nuts or spoon caramel atop them, but that seems like a denial of the essence of brownie, which is square, dark, plain, and stolid.

These are indeed square, dark and plain, but they’re also dense, fudgy, and decadent. I first made this recipe up a few weeks ago; I liked them so much that I made a fresh batch yesterday, but this time I tarted them up with cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and chipotle chili pepper on the theory that spices, being invisible, were not a denial of the brownie’s essential nature. Both versions are delicious.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thomas Lynch

I've been feeling fairly chipper and busy, which can only mean that for you, dear readers, it's time for something dark and indolent.  One of the things I miss about living down south is the sense of atmosphere.  New England has an atmosphere, but it's a spare and etiolated thing, redolent of the pilgrims and puritans and characterized by restraint.  There's not much excess here -- perhaps because excess would have required the expenditure of more energy than one can spare in such an inhospitable clime. 

I lack the energy for a comparable disquisition on the atmospherics of the south.  Nor is this poem a product of the south.  In addition to his literary strivings, Thomas Lynch is a Michigan undertaker.  He is not coy about mingling his work and his art, and the result is poetry that's well-suited for the upcoming Halloween season.

Putting it that way sounds trite and dismissive, but that is not my intent.  I don't think literature suffers from a bit of acquaintance with excess -- or why would we still be so mad for the Romantics and Victorians?

These Things Happen in the Lives of Women

The first time he ever bought her lingerie
she was dead of gin and librium and years
of trying to regain her innocence.
"These things happen in the lives of women. . . ."
is what the priest told him. "They lose their way."
And lost is what she looked like lying there
awash in her own puke and the disarray
of old snapshots and pill bottles,
bedclothes and letters and mementos of
the ones with whom she had been intimate.
She was cold already. Her lips were blue.
So he bought her a casket and red roses
and bought silk panties and a camisole
and garters and nylons and a dressing gown
with appliques in the shape of flowers.
And after the burial he bought a stone
with her name and dates on it and wept aloud
and went home after that and kept weeping.

Thomas Lynch on Wikipedia