For Good Measure   
Autumn Noelle HallClaire Everett 

on the sill, Ball jars
empty of all but sea-green
her memories of canning
slipping, like skin from a peach
blush-indigo to damask
gems from bough to jar
gifts from the Romans
to my mother, to me
on fermented fruit perfume
she giggles
spreading pinafore to catch
what brother shakes from the tree
a fluted edge
and an apple pie smile
patting and pricking
I make-believe the trimmings
into something warm and sweet
tin cutters:
hearts, stars, gingerbread men
pressed into scraps
the way those days were shaped
and sugar-sprinkled
not quite big enough
each spoonful of her not quite
sweet enough jam
like a small surgeon, I watch,
be-gloved with shortcrust dough
upside-down in the
bowl of her silver teaspoon,
faces, time-tarnished
loosened wisps of hair curled
against steam-ruddied cheeks
down three steps
to the fragrant, red tiled chill
of Grandma’s pantry –
the love she could not show us
melted in our mouths
stuck to cellar shelves
green tomato marmalade
wreathed in cobwebs
her need to preserve even
labor’s unripe fruits
chopping mint
with a curved blade —
sickle moon,
all that she kept concealed
expressed in the details
on her hands
as on her old butcher block
visible scars
some pits resist removal
some stones cling to flesh
holding my breath
I remove the spine intact.
how weak this flesh
clinging to promises
just as easily broken
hogs head cheese
bits of brain and cheek meat jelled
in its own aspic
having to make do with scraps
learning to stomach this…
simmering on the stove
this thin broth
fragrant with thyme, enough
to fill memory’s childhood home
the scent of bread
rising from the oven’s warmth
fills the emptiness
all the little tricks she had
for leavening our lives
deep in the core
brown sugar, fruit and spices
fit to burst
slow-baking Bramley apples
while you tell me all your plans
leaving at first light
the kettle cold on the stove
you take only
your favorite wooden spoon
to stir up a whole new life
safely gathered in
“may you never hunger,
may you never thirst. . .”
how the years come and go
measured by place-settings
After learning from each of us separately how meaningful For Good Measure was to us, Alan Summers invited Claire and I to do something tanka poets rarely get the chance to—to “tell” exactly why that was.  Excited to be offered such an opportunity, we had no idea how difficult answering that little question might be.  As we’d known one another just a few months when this sequence began, having been introduced only through our work on Jeffrey Woodward’s Tanka Prose Group board, and having communicated solely through e-mails, it was difficult to separate the evolution of our relationship from the development of this sequence.
* * *
Claire and I have many significant life events in common:  we are nearly the same age, we’ve both lost our fathers, and we each went through difficult divorces during the exact same time.  Nature lovers, we share compatible world views and spiritual outlooks.  But perhaps most notable in relation to this sequence, is the fact that we are both stay-at-home mothers, descended from long lines of mothers who prioritized rearing their own children.  Especially in these tough economic times, in societies where livelihoods are largely dependent upon dual incomes, this has often meant sacrificing in order to provide for our growing children’s needs.  But it is a sacrifice borne of great love and commitment, one which generations of women have made before us; and it is that foundation upon which For Good Measure is built.
 * * *
Within its talking tanka, there is a wistful sense of nostalgia, a conversation of inheritance and tradition passed grandmother-to-mother-to-daughter.  Synchronistic discoveries emerged with each new link.  When Claire wrote of the Romans’ gift, she had no way of knowing that my maternal great-grandmother and grandmother had emigrated to America from Rome, that they’d planted a damson plum tree in their new brownstone’s back yard.  When I wreathed green tomato marmalade jars in cobwebs, I had no idea it might bring the same tears to Claire’s eyes that her favorite film, Fried Green Tomatoes, invoked every time she watched it.  Swirling in the scent of baking bread and Bramley apples were shared recollections of our mothers’ care and kitchens.  Pressed into scraps and simmering in thin broth was the idea not only of making do, but of making something special out of little-or-nothing—of making memories.  And underneath it all was a growing sense that we were speaking not only for ourselves, but for generations of undervalued women who’d remained largely unrecognized; that in empowering ourselves through writing this together, we were somehow empowering them, too.
 * * *
Looking back over our old e-mails, we remembered again the founding of a friendship we’d longed for with our mothers and wish for with our daughters.  Memories have a funny way of slipping unexpectedly in, and just as unexpectedly away.  It is our hope that this sequence will honor and preserve the memories of many women, along with their secret longings and unspoken dreams.  In the end, like them, we bring to our tables what we are able, invoke blessings in the words we have, in the hope that our love and our families will continue to grow beyond ourselves.

—Autumn Noelle Hall
 * * *

Notes from the Gean  4:1 , June 2012

with love and thanks to Autumn — hoping you make it back home to Colorado!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Margaret Dornaus
    Jun 30, 2012 @ 02:23:17

    So very beautiful and evocative, Claire and Autumn. A lovely tribute–not only to generations of women but to generations of all the cooks who take the time to put more than a little love into everything they make. Thank you, both, for the sensory delight!


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