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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ode to Garlic

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Ode to Garlic


In the harbor of autumn
the husbandman
thumbed
gondola-shaped
cloves into the dirt.
They slept
under snow moons.
In spring’s growing sun
they sprouted, and
by July,
he pulled them
from the ground
by their leaf swords
and hung them like
pendulous
bolas
to dry.

Today, he carried
them to me
where I waited
under the maple tree
with empty hands.
Like a midwife,
I cradled them in my arms --
   eggs in a nest,
   clams in a tangle of kelp.

Oh, my children!

I felt the leap
inside, as if I myself
had birthed them
from my own canal.
Being from the center
of me, it was my duty to
rub the dirt
from their faces --
fat and cherubic,
their fragile skin
falling like petals
to the grass,
my papery hands
weaving braids like a crone.

When death comes,
send me down the river
with garlic -- pearls
of life pressed
in the soil of my hands.

~ Ruth M.
Listen to a podcast of this poem here.


This is my second ode. The first was an Ode to Quinoa, written shortly after Pablo Neruda's birthday July 12, when I was re-inspired by his odes. Here is a nice bio timeline of Neruda's life. I don't know how many odes he wrote, to simple, ordinary things. My favorite at the moment is his Ode to my Socks. I especially like it when you can see his original poem in Spanish next to the English translation, which you can at that link. It adds a deeper awareness of the nuances he intended. Neruda wrote odes to salt, tomatoes, a chestnut on the ground, and many more. I think that reading his, and writing my own, is a perfect way to meditate on the essence of simple, familiar things.



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57 comments:

Lorenzo said...

This is wonderful, Ruth. I love the gondola simile, the midwife, the clams in a tangle of kelp, the rubbing the dirt off their fat cherubic faces ... all leading up to that memorable gem of a last stanza. The life cycle of garlic as a counterpoint to our own. Going down that river (on a gondola?). The photos add a lot to the experience of this poem

Speaking of Neruda's Odes, I am working on (or slogging through) personalizing a translation of his ode to olive trees. You are so right about having the original and translation side by side.

Gwei Mui said...

I love garlic and I love ths ode
The ending to the ode is glorious
"When death comes,
send me down the river
with garlic -- pearls
of life pressed
in the soil of my hands."

Deborah said...

Everything about this is wonderful - the garlic, of course, to begin with. I didn't discover it until I was in my twenties, and living in this part of France means that every dish is flavoured with it. At a market the other day I bought marinated sweet (raw) garlic, but despite the name, it's spicy! Fabulous stuff.

I love the fact that you weave your garlic, which I had also never seen until I went to Spain. To have a thick braid hanging in the kitchen is a sign that the cook is a happy one.

Your wordplay is marvellous, Ruth, and the metaphor of birthing is just right. Those last lines are particularly beautiful...

Shari Sunday said...

I love your odes. The braided garlic is beautiful. Wish my husband didn't have such an aversion to it. It limits my own opportunities to enjoy it.

Marcie said...

Absolutely brilliant!! What a wonderful tribute and celebration of garlic. Will look forward to your many more odes to come!!!

deb said...

love love garlic here.
My husband and I tried to grow it once, in our first home . We don't have the space/light here.

The images of your ode are brilliant. Gondola shaped.

My in -laws are Italian, but garlic isn't used much in their regional cooking ( Abruzzi ) , so they are amused by how much I love it. Roasted, raw.. etc.
Husband and kids as well.

Hope you are having a wonderful summer . The weather has been hot, but overall there has been enough rain. ( I assume where you are in Michigan isn't too different from me here in the GTA ).

George said...

For a man who loves garlic, poetry, and odes, all with tremendous passion, you have started my day with a splendid gift. Thanks for this unexpected offering.

SwedeHart said...

Cute toes:D They look like mine, but yours are clean!

Char said...

a beautiful write and it makes me appreciate it's beauty. the delicate skin, the creamy color and yes so very earthy

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Lorenzo. I really did feel a visceral connection with the garlic, so it pleases me that my expression of it here connected with you. Yes, down that river in a gondola sounds like a peaceful exit.

I love that olive oil ode of Neruda's, all that murmuring and platinum leaves. I look forward to what you'll do with it to make it your own. It must be quite a pleasure to understand both languages expertly and glean the nuances of both, and even make your own interpretations.

Jeanie said...

Brilliantly written, brilliantly illustrated. I adore garlic and if anything is worthy of an ode, it's that!

Ruth said...

Gwei Mui, I'm so glad that someone who loves garlic as you do feels I did it some kind of justice. If I were stranded on a desert island and could choose just 3 food items, one would be garlic.

caroldiane said...

lovely, lovely - I feel passionate about garlic too! And I love the idea that I could write an Ode to Anything that Tickles My Fancy! As usual, your gorgeous photos are a treasure!!

Ruth said...

Deborah, thank you so much for your good, writerly words. How did we not know about garlic as young people? Often I feel that I was deprived to not be exposed to certain ways of eating. In my home we had simple meals that were quite uninteresting. My mother was a wonder to do all she did for a family of 10, but we just didn't have any ethnic connections that brought good seasonings (that weren't in a packet) into our kitchen.

The marinated raw garlic - sounds wonderful. I wonder if we can find it here, or maybe online.

Know something funny? I hadn't remembered when I first saw a braid of garlic -- until Don hung ours on the cupboard on the weekend, as you see in the photo. Suddenly, I remembered that my mom had a plastic one hanging in our kitchen when I grew up! If only it had been a real one, and my mother was a happy garlic cook. She, however, gave me piano music rising to my bedroom on Saturday mornings, Scenes from Childhood by Schumann . . .

Ruth said...

Shari, I'm so sorry about your husband.

:)

Which reminds me of a story involving mine. I once ate dinner at my poetry mentor Diane Wakoski's house, and she made pesto with basil from her husband Robert's stupendous front yard garden in the middle of town (an entire width of just basil). She added 25 - that's 25 - cloves of garlic to the pesto. I almost died in bliss. However, when I went to bed before Don, and he came into the room later to go to bed, he refused to stay in such a room with that garlic fog. So for one night, he had an aversion to garlic, and to me. :|

Ruth said...

Marcie, thank you abundantly for your appreciate comment1 and for welcoming more odes to come. Your photographic odes to children are such a treat.

Terresa said...

Ruth, where is your poetry book? I'd love to order one, please.

At first I thought the poem was Neruda. Then, the thrill...it was YoU! ;) Brilliant stuff.

The midwife resonated, as my midwife is one of my favorite people on earth. And the last stanza? Complete. Damn it! So good!! :)

Ruth said...

Dear Deb, GTA is Toronto, I think? Yes, I think we are similar. Can you believe I haven't been there yet? We promised ourselves just last weekend that we would try to go this fall, on the train.

You know, I felt a response to the word Abruzzi/Abruzzo, not unlike what I feel about garlic. Some of these things of the world are already inside us, and when we feel, hear, touch, smell, or see them, a recognition rises up. I wrote a poem once about tomatoes, that I would like an old country to call my own, any old country. I envy your husband, your in-laws, and you.

Ruth said...

George, my pleasure. Perhaps I should add Garlic? to my list:

Coffee? Tea? Garlic?

Thank you for your enthusiasm.

Ruth said...

Rachel!! Hay-lo, young lady! Clean up those toes!

And then come and get them dirty again playing badminton at Farm Day! I NEED to meet Swede. :|

Ruth said...

Char, for me there is nothing not to like about garlic. Some say they don't like the smell of it on their fingers after handling it.

???????!!!!!!

Ruth said...

Jeanie, between my post, and yours on what you ate on vacation, I'm a salivating animal. I gotta get me some eats . . .

freefalling said...

Ruth!
OMG!
I know I always rabbit on about being a dunce when it comes to poetry.
But I think your words are worming their way into my soul.
Can it be?
I'm starting to enjoy poetry?!

Susan said...

Wait until you see my Friday post...don't believe a word of it. Your poetry is a gift from the gods via your brilliant brain. If Neruda could read your poems, he would beg, BEG you to compile a book. Do you hear me, woman?!!! And don't you go brushing that off either...I'm serious here.

On a lighter note, I can identify with Don's discomfort after you ate a dish with 25 cloves of garlic! When we lived in Louisiana, David would often come home from a business dinner, reeking of garlic...I always slept in another room. The next morning, the whole room would be rank with it. Louisianans never met a garlic clove they didn't like!

rauf said...

Ruth, Indian kings and Nawabs used to wear garlic shaped shoes. i think the English have some problem with French obsession of garlic.

Babs-beetle said...

Ahh! Garlic :)

cathyswatercolors said...

Beautiful,garlic braids and all.
I was about to give you a recipe for basil garlic chicken pasta, but I think you've gone vegan?

Enjoy that garlic...you can eat it right away...yes?

Pauline said...

big smile, contented sigh - I think you should write an ode to odes :)

Vagabonde said...

Ruth you have such a beautiful way with words – they dance, they roll, they enchant.
I was brought up with garlic – we always had a tresse (braid)of it in the kitchen. I also cook with it in almost all the dishes I make. As you know many people say that French people smell of garlic… Garlic came to France in the 14th century I believe in the north as well as the south, then it went mostly to the south of France. In Provence they used to roast garlic cloves to protect themselves from cholera and plague. Most dishes from the Provence have garlic in them, they use it as a “base.” There are many garlic fairs in June in Provence and they even have a “santon” (a special handmade clay figurine from Provence) called La Femme à l’ail (the garlic woman.) It is so good for your health too – how great for you to be able to cultivate it.

lovely you said...

Ruth! Have you tried black garlic? It is fermented garlic which has a sweet and tangy flavor and a jelly-like texture. And supposedly it has almost twice as many antioxidants as the raw form. It is deeelicious! Presently we get ours from the Queen Victoria Market, but I think it would be cool to try to grow our own garlic like you and Don and then ferment it ourselves. We love garlic. I am really enjoying these odes. I love quinoa, too! I hope you are having a good day.

Oliag said...

I adore Neruda's odes...and have often wished that I could read the translations on the other side of the page...I love the subjects he wrote of...as I love the subjects you have written of....Garlic certainly deserved an ode of its own...and you did it beautifully...

Your photography compliments your poem perfectly:)

Ruth said...

Thank you, Jeanie. From this chair, I look wistfully at my braids of garlic hanging in the kitchen, and I know they will end more quickly than I would wish, because we consume a lot of garlic.

Ruth said...

Caroldiane, thank you so much. You could start with that one itself: Ode to Anything that Tickles My Fancy, and go from there.

I'd say our posts are aligned - yours about spending time in your garden beds weeding, and reflecting on your life.

Ruth said...

Dear Terresa, your praise is going to my head! Whoooo getting dizzy. It means a lot to me, for you are such a marvelous poet-thinker.

I'm glad to hear that you feel that way about your midwife, because the role of midwife, and even the word, strike me as one of the beautiful, organic seeds that have grown in our techno-culture these last few decades.

Ruth said...

Letty! High fives and hallelujah through the wormhole, my dear friend!

Ruth said...

Susie Q my friend, now you have peaked my curiosity! I have to wait until tomorrow?

Oh your kind words just fill me up, my dear. Thank you.

Yes, those Louisianians must get their garlic roots (heh) from the French, non?

Ruth said...

rauf, those Indian kings and Nawabs - I can picture them, those long pointed gondolas.

As for the French, I think I missed the cultural reputation for garlic that several of you have mentioned in comments. I remember the connection with immigrants, but I don't think I consciously thought of a particular country of origin.

Ruth said...

Babs, what's for dinner?

Ruth said...

Cathy, ohhh, I love chicken. I eat it occasionally, especially when I'm super hungry. It's something I really love. But yes, we're vegan-ish. I bet the dish is delicious. We have quite a bit of basil. Pesto. Pesto. Pesto.

Yes, we have already eaten some of the garlic. It will keep drying hanging there, and we'll just cut it off even now. When Don first harvested it, before hanging it to dry in the barn, it was very moist. That was the second week of July. It has already dried quite a bit since then, to more like what we get at the store.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Pauline, well now, that's a thought. Maybe Neruda's.

Ruth said...

Dear Vagabonde, thank you for your kind words.

And thank you for all that interesting information about garlic in France. The word tresse is beautiful. Of course it must be related to the English tresses of hair. It does make me very happy that something I love this much is also very good for health.

Ruth said...

Dear Tracy, black garlic, no! I will take your word for it that it is deeelicious. And I would love to try it. I wonder if there are instructions for fermenting online. Hmm, must check that out.

I'm having a good day. I wonder when you and Jason are heading Stateside?

Ruth said...

Thank you very much, Oliag, you are kind.

I have a couple of Neruda's poem books that have the original Spanish next to the English translation. So if you go to buy a collection, you should be able to find that. Online the two languages side by side are harder to find.

ds said...

I haven't much to add to what has gone before (may I order a copy of your book in advance, please?), but I love the way you braided this poem. Brilliant. Thank you!

Ruth said...

Dear DS, thank you, my word-loving friend.

Pat said...

This is beautiful. I love the poem. So visual I can almost SMELL the garlic. I LOVE the photos to accompany the poem. I think you're on to something with these "Odes"! Yes you are!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Pat for such encouraging words! I think the odes are onto me. :)

*jean* said...

i am putting the gondola cloves in for the very first time this fall...i hope i can pay them proper homage...what a wonderful poem, ruth...and i agree, garlic is one of the most incredible things on earth...i never tire of it's perfume in the pan..

Ruth said...

Jean, more garlic going into the ground, and reproducing . . . ohhhhh, lovely. Bless you.

Ginnie said...

To think you are growing your own garlic, and braiding it, thrills me to no end, Ruth. I can picture it! It took me moving to The Netherlands to discover garlic, but don't ask me why. I cut up a whole head of it (along with leeks and onions) in almost every dish I make (it's so cheap here!) and Astrid goes to work the next day warning the guys (if they don't say something to her first ("So Ginnie cooked with garlic again last night, I see!")). The funny thing is that we never smell it on each other. That's the fun of it! :D

I love this ode and all your wonderful images. It all makes me smile.

Loring Wirbel said...

A poem to garlic, bless you. I live on garlic, with sides of everything else.

Ruth said...

Wow, Boots, that's a lot of garlic in every dish, you go! I love it that much too, and I think once you get used to it, you miss it if there is less. Oh dear, I'm getting hungry.

Ruth said...

Loring, oh that's good, and I think you also live on jalapeño and cayenne with sides of everything else too.

Woman in a Window said...

Praise, indeed. When you rubbed the dirt from the tiny swollen faces I felt it in my throat. I felt it as a mother first and then as a woman who has taken soil by the throat and begged. What a wonder you are. I am so pleased to read you.

xo
erin

The Solitary Walker said...

Oh, wow! I think I've a bit of catch-up to do on your poems.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Erin, so much. I love that you felt it in your throat too.

Ruth said...

Robert, thank you for coming over here to read my Garlic ode, and thank you for the "Oh, wow!" ! and for reading anything else you'll read . . . .