Poem of the Week, by Shelley Whitaker

The Fox Den
–  Shelley Whitaker

As a kid on Spring evenings
while junebugs hooked their legs
into every drop of water and lassos
of grey moths sliced the air,
I would sit mid-driveway
waiting for a family of fox pups
to emerge from their hole in the earth
beside our house. Every May evening
they were born from red straw beds
of those woods; sharp-eyed, black-chinned
creatures burning behind the trees
like apparitions of the sunset.

I would always rise too quickly,
plastic zippers buzzing, shoelace
slapping concrete, scaring them
underground again. It knocked
the heart out of me to send something
back into blackness, to think a necklace
of sun-hungry dogs was snaking its way
back towards the center of the world,
all because I shuddered, all because
I thought I heard the wind call
my name, and rushed to meet it.

For more information on Shelley Whitaker, please click here: http://www.versedaily.org/2014/aboutshelleywhitaker.shtml

My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

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Wild yeast

I’ve baked a fair amount of bread in my life, but not much in recent years. That’s what happens when you live within a mile or two of several great bakeries. Each sells a kind of bread I can only find there.

Turtle Bread for olive bread and a loaf of multigrain that tastes delicious instead of like twigs. Rustica for levain. Honey & Rye for rye. Great Harvest for whole wheat. Patisserie 46 for croissants. And Bill’s Imported Foods for the baked-daily pocket bread, for which you need to get there before noon because it sells out fast.

Out of curiosity, though, I decided to try a no-knead bread recipe. It seemed odd to me that you could even make yeast bread without kneading it. Isn’t kneading the whole point? Wouldn’t the bread fail to rise if you didn’t knead it? Skepticism. But I gave it a whirl.

What you do is mix flour and water and salt and a tiny, tiny bit of instant yeast in a bowl. Then you put it on your counter and do nothing. It sits there for a long time, like 12-20 hours. Then you dump it into a heavy, preheated pot with a lid, and you bake it in a very hot, preheated oven.

(Note: Given the simplicity of this recipe you would think I could follow it exactly. But no. I added more salt because I hate not-salty-enough bread. I didn’t have a Dutch oven or any heavy-enough pot with a lid, so I baked it in an enamel bowl half the recommended size and stuck a cookie sheet over the top. And I didn’t have instant yeast so I used active dry.)

It was the best bread I’ve ever made. One of the best breads I’ve ever had, period. So tasty that my youthful companion and I gobbled up the entire loaf in less than a day, straight out of the oven and slathered with butter, toasted and slathered with butter, broken up and tossed into bowls of soup, and I made another loaf the next day and another a few days after that.

Why this bread is so good is something I’ve been thinking about for days. It’s as basic as it gets: unbleached white flour, water, salt, yeast. But it’s dense and heavy, unlike most yeast bread that rises so high and light. Chewy. Delicious. Primitive. Interesting.

That’s the word that keeps coming to me: interesting.

The bread requires no human work beyond the few seconds that it takes to mix the ingredients in a bowl. But the yeast is working. For twenty hours, give or take a few in either direction, the yeast is working.

It’s working hard, too. This yeast is deprived. You use a tiny fraction of what you would use in regular, kneaded bread. That’s the first deprivation. You mix it into cold water instead of warm. More deprivation. There’s no sugar in that cold water, not even half a teaspoon, to help the yeast proof. There’s no kneading.

The yeast begins its life in difficult circumstances. Everything that it must do, it must do on its own.

The yeast works in the dark, metabolizing simple sugars and excreting carbon dioxide and alcohol and growing and growing and growing. If you peek at it during those long hours you won’t notice anything until near the end, when suddenly you realize that the ordinary lump of dough in the bowl has grown big and alive-looking. The shiny surface is pocked with tiny holes.

It’s at that point that you pick the whole thing up with both hands –it will come up all of a piece, like a sleeping animal– and put it in a hot pot and from there into the hot oven.

The taste of this bread is the result of deprivation and the hard work that comes in the wake of deprivation. And there’s a wildness in it that might also be the result of the wild yeast that floats into the dough from the air during all those long hours on the counter.

The difference between this no-knead, many-houred bread is the difference between the taste of a “baby” carrot pulled out of a watery plastic bag and the taste of a carrot pulled by its feathery green top out of the backyard.

It’s the difference between a page of writing scribbled out ten minutes before class and a poem that’s been gathering force for years on end, written and rewritten and rewritten again.

Now I’m thinking of long ago, when I used to teach Chinese at a big public high school, and the difference between, say, a Hmong student who had grown up in a Thai refugee camp, a student unsure of the year or day on which he had been born but sure of why he wanted an education, and a born-and-bred American student who had been given a new car as a 16th birthday gift.

I didn’t love one more than the other. I still don’t. But I recognize the difference.

Poem of the Week, by Gregory Djanikian

Something Else
– Gregory Djanikian

There’s the lush grass again,
the white pines green and mysterious.
And the barn, too, in the distance,
fading red, the color of longing.

The afternoon light is gilding the hillside,
the clouds are moving together,
huge, incipient thoughts,

and you’re swooning with desire
wanting the beautiful to lie down with you,
gold-leaf your fingertips and tongue,
green you with fragrance

though you don’t know exactly
what you’re after, whether it’s beauty itself
or whatever lives inside it,
elusive, entire,
peripheral to your wanting—

shadow of wings
you catch obliquely
along the woods’ edge,

river that you hear
without listening.

* * *

For more information on Gregory Djanikian, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/gregory-djanikian

My Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265

Poem of the Week, by Sharon Olds

– Sharon Olds

Coming in off the dock after writing,
I approached the house,
and saw your long grandee face
in the light of a lamp with a parchment shade
the color of flame.

An elegant hand on your beard. Your tapered
eyes found me on the lawn. You looked
as the lord looks down from a narrow window
and you are descended from lords. Calmly, with no
hint of shyness you examined me,
the wife who runs out on the dock to write
as soon as one child is in bed,
leaving the other to you.

Your long
mouth, flexible as an archer’s bow,
did not curve. We spent a long moment
in the truth of our situation, the poems
heavy as poached game hanging from my hands.

For more information on Sharon Olds, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/sharon-olds

My Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265

Poem of the Week, by Pablo Neruda

Love Sonnet LXXXIX
– Pablo Neruda

When I die, I wish your hands upon my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass once more their cool touch over me:
to sense the softness that changed my fate.

I want you to live while I, asleep, await you.
I want your ears to go on hearing the wind.
I want you to smell the sea’s aroma we loved so together,
and to go on walking the sands we walked.

I want what I love to go on living.
And you, whom I loved and sung above all else,
for all that, flourish again, my flower,

to reach for everything my love demands of you,
so that my shadow is passed through your hair,
so that all can know the reason for my song.

(Translation: Terence Clarke)

For more information on Pablo Neruda, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/pablo-neruda

My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

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