Friday, April 20, 2007

12-Year-Old Applesauce

The label, a scrap of freezer tape, is written in happy blue ink:
Applesauce 1994. It’s now 2006. Who would eat
12-year-old applesauce? In a can, it would bulge
with bacteria. Under a plastic lid, it has grown a hard layer
of frost and the beige skin known as freezer burn. I chip off
the ice, cut away the burn, and wait impatiently
for the fruit of my long-ago labor to thaw.

In 1994 my husband was alive. A year away from his downward
slide, he understood every growing thing on this property.
Carrying old trusted tools, he planted and pruned
our fruit trees. The cage of his hand-held picker reached
the uppermost Macs, bright in the sun, while I gathered
bruised drops in the grass. He never failed to praise
my pies, cakes, and cobblers. And applesauce, every vintage.

In 1994 my daughter Jill was alive. She was 19, a horsewoman
and clarinetist. An artist in the kitchen. Together we
rolled these red apples around in green buckets of water,
drained them, cut them into crisp pieces, set them to melt
and bubble in a vast pot on the stove, inhaled their goodness,
exhaled our mutual feelings of pleasure and security
in this ritual, touching shoulders, hands, chakras.

In 1994 my mother was only a phone call away. Holly, the gentle
black lab mix, had another two years left. The cats, acquired as a group,
were at mid-life. The horses were here then—Jill’s horses, her father’s
horses, gone now, leaving behind walls of blue ribbons.

With only a few ice crystals remaining, the applesauce receives
my spoon. I hold its pink sweetness in my mouth, trying
to swallow slowly, to keep this bliss on my raw throat
as long as possible before it slips away.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Scent of Celery

This afternoon I read in a 1935 diet book that celery makes an excellent substitute for bread. It made me laugh. It also made me think about celery.

When Joe and I were first married we lived in a little apartment way up high in midtown Manhattan. After three years we bought a little weekend house in Pennsylvania. It was mostly his idea; I wasn't sure how often I wanted to come to the country (all those trees!). But it wasn't long before I became caught up in the spell of living close to nature, and I don't think we ever missed a weekend unless he was traveling in Europe.

We would leave after work on Friday. Joe would drive, and if it was still light outside I would read a cookbook, planning the weekend's meals. When we reached Sparta, NJ, we stopped to buy food. The supermarket looked so different from the little grocery stores in Manhattan. It smelled different, too. Today's supermarkets smell like baked goods. I don't know if it's because of their bakeries or because they spray "eau de cinnamon bun" into the vestibules. But all those years ago the Sparta supermarket smelled like celery. At least that's how it seemed to me.

I think of those days sometimes when I pause in the produce department, looking for the freshest, heaviest, cleanest head of celery. Or when I happen upon one of those cookbooks, long unused.

Friday, April 06, 2007


March Song

Twenty-something degrees—
I still need gloves to walk the dog.
But the birds know what’s coming.
Their first tentative mating murmurs
edge the property: two notes
from a chickadee, then another,
nameless but familiar.

The angle of the sun sends its own
signal of the changing season,
as does—for reasons I can’t explain—
the long white puff of an old contrail
dividing the suddenly brilliant sky.

My tired winter shoes
are no match for the snow’s icy surface.
Thawed yesterday, it froze overnight
to a glistening slick. The dog pulls me
down the slight grade back to the house.

The ice will melt again,
The hard, cold dirt road
will turn again to mud.

Who knows where the time goes?
My friends and I tuned our first guitars,
debating the key, settling on G.
Across the morning sky
all the birds are leaving,

we sang, thinking more about
the placement of our fingers
than the onslaught of time.

Today a double V of geese glides
overhead, so high they seem silent.
I remember the hollow sound
of the guitars, the chord changes,
our long hair falling over the frets
like the ribbons of years
that stretched before us.