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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