Spelling "For Worse"
by Peg Duthie
When she saw the lettuce tagged "for quick sale," she shuddered, recalling her mother's forceful forkfuls of salads: "No daughter of mine will fail because of flab." She no longer loves the man her body won, itself the prize and still her prison. Lacking the means to leave, she starts by sketching runes on the walls of her tub with each month's blood. Then she begins to cook for herself. First, figs, poached in a wine reeking more of treebark than grapes. Watching the fruit swell up as it stews, she whispers an alphabet of needles, stabbing at clusters of hot-air compliments. Next, olive puffs: cheese dough patted around brine-slick beads. Lining them up across the ungreased baking sheet, she murmurs an alphabet of scissors, snipping at purses and strands of paste. Then she boils rice and molds it into brides. Adding seaweed veils, she mumbles through an alphabet of floods, blurring the grooms off pages, off pillars, off pedestals. Time for the walnuts. She blends them with cream and pumps them into pastry horns. Stirring the glaze, she quietly speaks an alphabet of flame, whipping into ashes reins and apron-strings. Hardened by neglect, the orange she seizes isn't quite a relic, but its skin is tough and thin, the juice unusually sharp. She plunges the flesh into a syrup of cloves. As it steeps, she sketches an alphabet of spurs in the steam, redirecting parades and pageants. She harvests rosebuds, rinses the petals, and boils them into a jam. Rosemelt on toast. Rosemelt on fish. Rosemelt straight on the tongue. She swallows the sweetness before reciting the alphabet of thorns. Her skin is learning the gleam of scale and armor. Sweetbread pie: a panful of organs far more vital than muscle, yes? yet sneered at for their pungency — she drapes the crust without precision, intent on mastering her alphabet of picks, listening as the locks unclasp their links. What's left? An egg. She spins it on her palm. So many choices among her recipes. Then she sets it down. The alphabet of shells is singing to her of how a body's trappings shine to the beached and the combers once they catch the drift of shorelight. The letters echo around the house she's shedding even as she fills it.
Peg Duthie shares a house in Nashville with a sassy dog and a snarky motorcycle mechanic. She's the author of Measured Extravagance (Upper Rubber Boot, 2012) and there's more about her at NashPanache.com.
When asked of what poem the word "cherry" immediately made her think, she said that she first encountered A.E. Housman's "Loveliest of Trees" some thirty-odd years ago, in an issue of Highlights. But, truth be told, she is frequently occupied more with pastries than poems, and her initial answer to (her misreading of) the editors' question was about a cherry-filled kolache.
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