Friday, December 31, 2010

Words to relish: Ode to a poet

In these anticipatory hours leading up to toasting the new year, I’m indulging in some poetic language and imagery that has all the sparkle of champagne, the smooth spicy richness of that final seasonal eggnog. In her musical hymn-like book, New Mexican poet Pat Mora pays homage to the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda by writing a collection of her own “adobe odes” in honor of everyday things, many of them tied to home and hearth. In her lyrical musings, an adobe house is a “honey-hive, sun-baked loaf,” a “dream cave” containing “beans simmering for centuries.” Her chiles are “flamenco queens” laden with a blaze that tastes of “a sweetgreen fire.” Colorful quacamole is “parrot-sassy,” chocolate imparts “dusky layers of possibilities,” and a lemon is “a little canary nun” that embodies “the inwardness of prayer, outpourings of clear radiance.”

 An ode can be made to anything, and she sings exuberant praises for skin, tulips, rain and workers with equal precision. In applause of the apple, that “ruby story,” that “firm flower,” she writes:

“The first bite best,

a sweet river on the tongue,

the flesh innocent until we began to chew

and felt a hunger,

companion now to the grave.”

By blending the occasional Spanish word or phrase into her verse, she announces her Hispanic heritage and gives her writing a uniquely Southwestern flavor. A devoted dispensary of what she calls “bookjoy,” she’s also a prolific author of children’s books, a public speaker and event organizer, and she has plans for 2011: namely, to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) in schools and libraries around the country.

Her poems make clear her deep reverence for the role of food making in the making of a life. “Feel the rotation,” she says to the imagined reader standing over a pot on the stove, “centuries of circular stirrings, hands spinning ollas, reveries.” One of her most beautiful tributes is her “Ode to Kitchens” (I’ve taken a couple of excerpts from the longer poem here), which leaves a haunting sense of why our best memories from year to year are fed by the joy found at the heart of the home and around the table:

    “Home within my home,

we explore

      your aromatic hiding places,

cabinets, possibilities,


     of pans and bowls…


Lids clang their incantations

            in the calligraphy of smoke,


of simmering soups —

         lentils, corn, tomatoes

              scents mingling with yeast’s

perfume. Dough’s modest chest swells

          with expectation under a cotton cloth.

Warmth works its daily mystery,

           alters elements

into a bouquet of bread...

    Gathered, we feast,

humble temple,

          perpetual family flame,

                     muse of metamorphosis.”