chop. stir. turn. sigh. repeat.
my days these days are filled with simple verbs; staccato, monosyllabic verbs: chop. stir. turn. sigh.
in other words, i fill my hours tucked between the pages of tall stacks of books i am guzzling down as if to carry me across the frozen tundra out my window. i guzzled my way through january, and except for a few days in the air in february, i aim to do it all over again in this the shortest month.
i do rise on occasion from my butter-yellow-checked chair, mid-morning sometimes, to take my station at the chopping block, where my knife work begins. usually in the alliums, chopping onions to bits, mincing garlic buds, filling the room and my fingertips with the essence of under-earth. i glug olive-y oils into the big red pot, the one weighty enough to shatter my toes should i ever let it slip from my grip. i slow-cooked my way through the year’s first month: stews and soups and braises. more stews and soups and braises.
it’s the simple rhythms that put the hum in my day. sustenance, really. the exotic and the excitement––the sighs and the gasps––come in the pages i turn. the ones where i might find a sentence so lovely i all but haul out my scissors to make of it a shrine to the genius of human mind and soul that so sees the world in these breathtaking ways, and dares to combine words in ways we’ve never before imagined. or felt.
really, it’s all filling my tank for the weeks ahead when my little book will take its pirouette for a few short moments, and i will step beyond my shadows long enough to put voice to its birthing. those of us who tremble when stepping before a crowd, we need to store up a winter’s worth of quietude, of sustenance, so we’ve a reserve to dip into. to share abundantly.
these wintry months i am doing winter’s work: letting the roots seek deeper ground whilst on the surface all looks still.
and so my offerings here are leaning more than usual on the genius of those i gather round me. and my hope is that what punctuates and titillates my day might bring the same to you…
we begin with mary oliver, a little poem she wrote as part of a septet.
“So Every Day”
So every day
I was surrounded by the beautiful crying forth
of the ideas of God,
One of which was you.
a beloved, beloved friend of the chair sent me this the other day. and i thought you too might want to tuck it in your drawer of special words (i could not for the life of me find its origins, only that it was tagged “healers” and so i share it thusly:
some will turn away when you show them your bleeding.
some will stay.
will press stars into the wounds.
will hold your feet as you learn to walk again with the weight of a too-full heart pummeling your bones.
i mentioned last week that i’d tumbled my way into a poetry conversation between dante micheaux and a poet priest named spencer reece, whose story so intrigued me i ran to the library and found his magnificent, magnificent memoir, the secret gospel of mark: a poet’s memoir, which is hands down the most gasp-inspiring book i’ve read in a good long while. i couldn’t stop reading; inhaled 400-plus pages in two days. tried hard as i could to stay awake into the night to keep reading. but my old body refused. i saved it till the morrow. i wound up giving it five stars in an amazon review, and i wrote this:
5.0 out of 5 stars In a Word: Brilliant Reviewed in the United States on February 2, 2023
In an age of binge-watching, this magnificent, tender, deeply vulnerable, and utterly breathtaking memoir from poet and Anglican priest Spencer Reece deserves to be binge-read. In one gulp, if you don’t need to sleep. I swallowed it whole in two sittings. And I couldn’t wait to get back to its pages when I had to put it down. Reece writes gloriously on multiple levels. He is at once raconteur and poet. A lifetime’s close read of poetry pours from the pages, as Reece takes us deep into his fluency in — and kinship with — Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, James Merrill, Mark Strand, George Herbert, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Interwoven with his own sometimes wrenching, occasionally tragic, story — one that carries him through dark years as a closeted gay teen, and later an alcoholic who briefly finds himself on a psych ward, and ultimately stumbles into grace as a priest called to love with abundance — Reece writes that “poetry saved me more than the church.” The twinned lenses, funneling toward a holy and redemptive intersection of God and poetics, serve to make this a book I’ll long press close to my heart. As a longtime reviewer of Books for the Soul for the Chicago Tribune, this one counts among the rare few unforgettable treasures tucked on that bookshelf. It’s at turns bawdy, and funny, and crushing, and always, always crafted in sentences so beautiful, so crisp, and — yes — so poetic, they will leave you gasping in awe.
and from the pages of reece’s secret gospel come this week’s. . .
sentences of the week (in which i invite you into my commonplacing world and share some of the snippets that filled my notebook this week):
“The hint of night scratched at the edges of the day.” (372; Spencer Reece, Secret Gospel of Mark)
“foggy green lawn footnoted with hedgehogs” The Secret Gospel of Mark: A Poet’s Memoir, by Spencer Reece (“footnoted” as in splattered, punctuated with…(113)
“the land oozed God.” (and for the trifecta, it’s Spencer Reece once again…)
i often let my friends at the New York Review of Books point me toward what belongs on my shelves. and so it is, especially, in the children’s corner. i’ve long been mad for whimsical nearly obsolete words, words that need a puff of oxygen to keep their hearts still beating. and, so, i’m enchanted by this long-time favorite, which i’d not known before: Ounce Dice Trice, with words by Alastair Reid and illustrations by Ben Shahn. Ounce Dice Trice was the only children’s book ever illustrated by Shahn, and only one of two books Reid wrote for children.
NYBR says this: “Ounce Dice Trice operates as a haphazard, whimsical dictionary of words and word play. Reid, a Scottish-born poet and long-time correspondent for The New Yorker, provides list upon silly list of fantastic words, most of them real, some completely made-up. Shahn, the Lithuanian-born American artist known for his socially- and politically-informed art, provides hilarious drawings to accompany the words.” [see below, for a wee quickling of a peek. and be charmed, like me, by the name for a little pig. i suppose dear wilbur (of charlotte’s barnyard) was a tantony.]
and that, dear friends, is my week’s worth of sustenance. except for one thing: the big red pot. so here is but one of the many things that filled that pot this past week and this past month:
Turkey Meatballs in Eggplant Tomato Sauce (from Melissa Clark at the New York Times, with a little twist by me*)
Yield: 28 meatballs, 4 to 6 servings
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, more for serving, if desired
½ cup panko or other plain dried bread crumbs
¼ cup minced onion
¼ cup chopped chives or basil
2 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane or minced
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1½ pounds ground turkey, very cold
1 large egg, beaten
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
3 cups marinara sauce, more to taste*
In a large bowl, combine cheese, bread crumbs, onion, chives, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and red pepper flakes, if using, and mix well. Add turkey and egg and blend with your hands until well mixed. If you’ve got time, cover mixture and chill for an hour or up to 24 hours. These are easiest to form into balls while very cold. Form into 28 meatballs, each about 1¼-inches in diameter.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan. When hot, add enough of the meatballs to fit in one layer without crowding, and brown on all sides, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate, add another tablespoon of oil to pan and brown another layer of meatballs, transferring them to the plate as they brown. Repeat until all meatballs are browned, adding more oil to the pan as needed.
When meatballs are all browned, add marinara sauce to pan and bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits on the pan bottom. Return meatballs and their juices to pan, shake pan to cover the meatballs with sauce, and lower heat. Partly cover pan and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve hot, drizzled with more olive oil and sprinkled with more cheese, if you like.
*note: this week i super jazzed up the sauce with a shiny night-black eggplant: while the meatballs chilled in the fridge, i took my marinara up a couple notches: sautéed onions, garlic, and then eggplant. added fennel, red pepper flaks (a pinch), marjoram and oregano, salt and pepper. cook till browned and then relaxed. add splash red wine. jar of tomato basil marinara; let simmer a good half hour. (here’s where i added extra bowls: i scooped my simmered sauce into a bowl, and browned my meatballs in the big red pot; once browned, i poured back the sauce, and let it all get cozy, simmering for another while. at dinner time, they all arrived deliciously on our plates. (and this is why you’d best take your cooking instruction for a more precise cook!)
what sustains you through your week?
Ah, my dear, when you head out on your book jaunt, surely many “chairs” can divvy up to be sure one of us is with you at each one, so there is always a hand to hold you steady…lean on us! 💕
thanks, doll! and funny that the one thing i forgot to mention is that i’m in the midst of making a virtual gathering for the chairs for the launch of the book. details to come, once i get an ok from the marketing folks….
Because there is always more, this just fell upon me. The heavens always know…
The Winter of Listening
No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.
All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
round every living thing.
What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
What we strive for
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
and then nourishes
What we hate
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.
Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.
All those years
listening to those
nothing to say.
All those years
has its own voice
All those years
you can belong
simply by listening.
And the slow
is born from
Silence and winter
has led me to that
So let this winter
for the new life
I must call my own.
~ David Whyte ~
(The House of Belonging)
My nephew just requested a poem today “Can anyone help me find a poem about feeling, feeling things, or the like being a part of changing the world? I dont know if im making it up. ring any bells?’. and this showed up. I love how the mystic an serve….♥️💫
i do too. xoxoxo
Oh sweet friend. Each week I pull up a chair and sink into your words and musings. Cold has once again visited the lowcountry for a few days. I old sheets will cover my beloved camillas. Frost is not their friend. Like your meatballs ..the crock pot holds a pot roast for supper. Chili is on the stove. And your beautiful quotes are keeping me warm this afternoon.
Oh please let us pull up a chair as you launch your book.
oh, honey, to have a camellia that needs covering! to have a camellia…..(sigh….) though bedsheets atop the camellias are not the upholstery of choice. i am so sorry. i’ve done the blanket brigade up here too, in middle spring or early fall. as it stands, my garden is in deep sleep. though the bitter cold can still steal victims. i love that you have two things — chili AND pot roast — simmering away.
i will post the details for the gathering soon as i get the green light. awaiting that now! xoxox
stay warm. please….
It’s been a very long week here. You inspired me to go out and buy all the fixings for potato soup and spinach soup tonight. While I was out, the sun called to me and I made it into the woods for a short visit, which always sustains me. Can’t wait for the new book and the idea of the virtual chair gathering sounds wonderful!
well that sounds delicious!!!!!! i love your treks to the woods. dear chair friends, if you love to witness earthly beauties follow mary on Insta @ marymc7517 is that okay that i just shared that? i love love love your art making in the woods…..
of course. thanks so much.
Yes, Wilbur was a tantony !! Love!! You put words together that I never imagined and it’s such pure delight! I’ve taken to writing some down in my mole skin. Taylor was in awe of my love for you and your writing while he was home at Christmas!! “ You touch my heart in such a certain way!! ♥️
Sent from my iPhone
Ohhhhhh, mary mary mary, you have nooooo idea how much your words feel like a lifesaving hug today. I love you pure and ever. Wouldn’t Gracie the librarian love tantony too? Did you know Saint Antony was patron saint of pigs??? Did we even know pigs had patron saints?!?!?
Tantony sounds so much better than runt. Words matter.
Received an email from Amazon the other day updating me on my order from last summer. Your new book will be speeding its way to me on March 13th.
doesn’t it sound so much more important, tantony i mean! and, yes, i have heard that that little book is rolling off the presses sooner than thought, though the official pub date is still march 21. i think i’ll be posting for the gathering on monday — how highly unusual for things here at the chair!
“these wintry months i am doing winter’s work: letting the roots seek deeper ground whilst on the surface all looks still.”
Beautiful. The work of winter.
I always consider those who are grieving the physical death of a loved one to be in the midst of a dark and cold winter which looks desolate. But like nature, it is a time of a lot going on that we cannot see. They need us to hold hope for them – that with time, sun, and warmer temperatures they, like the trees and other shrubs and perennials, will begin to reveal the tiny green shoots and swelling buds that reassure them that new life has begun again.
beautiful……and this resonates with your soon-to-be-birthed book on grieving:
i’ve often been asked in recent months for books to read when grief seizes the heart….
wait, that is a very exciting new thing! i have never before posted a link in a comment that popped into such an image…..
Then, in all humility, this would be it. Thank you! It is a fresh combination of current best practices for healthy grieving from the mental health community and research with what I consider contemporary Catholic / Christian spirituality. Tone is very personal, compassionate and encouraging.
In my dedication, I stole the following quote from an interview YOU did with the poet John O’Donohue – but added my own word at the end: “May this book find its way to those who need it most.”
The fervent wish of my heart.
Barbie, your fabulous review of “The Secret Gospel of Mark” inspired me to put it on my list of must-reads. And I must say that I’m blown away by your gifted talent to do just that! (Are you still asked to do an occasional Books for the Soul review? You should be!) I never knew that there was a patron saint of pigs! What a fun read “Ounce, Dice, Trice” will be. The illustrations are as intriguing as the title. And if that isn’t enough to delight in, I just noticed your addition of the David Whyte poem. It’s a cold, gray, winter’s day here in FL, with icy winds from the north causing the ocean to roil violently, so “The Winter of Listening” spoke to me. I can hardly wait for you to share “The Book of Nature” with us because I know for certain that it will speak to me as well!
ah, dear KH, the vigor with which you attend to these little gatherings of mine is mighty indeed! i never knew there was a patron saint of pigs. in fact, i am going to look up other patron saints. well, st. brigid poor girl is patron saint of poultry. and St. Eligius (autocorrect insisted on turning that into elegies if i didn’t put it in uppercase, so there you go, a rare upper!) is patron saint of cows, but also of gold and goldsmiths, so he gets a bit lifted out of the barnyard. i am sure every one of these anointed ones has a grand tale behind the patron ship. and you know i am going to dig into it……
It makes a lot of sense though, doesn’t it? These animals were the livelihood for so many, for so long. I’ll bet there’s probably a saint for sheep, goats and crops as well!
i’m sure there are…..that’s what i need, a patron saint of tomatoes! tell that to the big green caterpillars that gobble my marinara before it’s off the vine….