The Poetry of Kitchens
Half of the photographs I've taken over the years have been taken in my kitchen. I've sat at the kitchen table and written in my journal, I've written notes, and poems and who knows what.
The windows aren't ideal, but they're fine. You can see in today's photos that I need to clean my window screen, and well, the windows, too.....
Recently my mother-in-law gave me these four little ceramic pots, and I put some African violets in them and set them on the windowsill. Which got me thinking about memories and objects and all the secrets and intrigue and comfort that occur quietly in kitchens.
You've probably read the poem "Perhaps the World Ends Here," by Joy Harjo that begins,
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
And it's "In the Kitchen" that Penelope Shuttle tries to love the world back to normal:
The new fridge hums like a maniac
I am trying to love the world
back to normal
The chair recites its stand-alone prayer
again and again
The table leaves no stone unturned
The clock votes for the separate burial of hearts
Well, who knows what normal is anyway? But perhaps it's in the kitchen that we can best love the world. We all gravitate toward the kitchen.
People often think that poetry is inaccessible, or distant from them, and their lives. It isn't. Poetry often resides in the kitchen. It's in the everyday. It's in the ordinary moments. I love poetry the most when it lets me see or hear or experience something so ordinary, in a way I never have before. In the following poem by Jeanne Marie Beaumont, "When I Am in the Kitchen," the ice cube tray image/sound was like that for me. Especially this summer when I seem to be cracking that tray multiple times a day.
When I Am in the Kitchen
by Jeanne Marie Beaumont
I think about the past. I empty the ice-cube trays
crack crack cracking like bones, and I think
of decades of ice cubes and of John Cheever,
of Anne Sexton making cocktails, of decades
of cocktail parties, and it feels suddenly far
too lonely at my counter. Although I have on hooks
nearby the embroidered apron of my friend's
grandmother and one my mother made for me
for Christmas 30 years ago with gingham I had
coveted through my childhood. In my kitchen
I wield my great aunt's sturdy black-handled
soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out
the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit
the silverware of my husband's grandparents.
We never met, but I place this in my mouth
every day and keep it polished out of duty.
In the cabinets I find my godmother's
teapot, my mother's Cambridge glass goblets,
my mother-in-law's Franciscan plates, and here
is the cutting board my first husband parqueted
and two potholders I wove in grade school.
Oh the past is too much with me in the kitchen,
where I open the vintage metal recipe box,
robin's egg blue in its interior, to uncover
the card for Waffles, writ in my father's hand
reaching out from the grave to guide me
from the beginning, "sift and mix dry ingredients"
with his note that this makes "3 waffles in our
large pan" and around that our an unbearable
round stain—of egg yolk or melted butter?—
that once defined a world.
In the kitchen I have time to notice the light. Washing the dishes, or sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast – I'm in it, right there in it – the poetry of morning light, the poetry of kitchens.
It's in the kitchen that we often first hear good news, or bad. We attach the beautiful pictures our children make for us on the fridge with magnets we bought on a trip we can barely remember taking. Kitchens are for early mornings and late nights. Sessions at the kitchen table where we tell stories, drink wine and eat cheese. We're tired in the kitchen, but it's where we dance, too. We pour strong coffee here, we hug each other. We make things we hope others will love and eat up with joy. The kitchen is full of delicious smells. And once in a while something gets burned, and that too becomes a rather cherished memory.
I hope you find poetry in your kitchen today. While you drink your coffee and eat your cheerios, or when you're sitting at the table waiting for the pasta water to boil. I hope your window is open and you hear a bird. Or trace your finger over a plate that someone gave you. I hope the light falls on a book you left on the kitchen table, or on a letter a friend wrote to you or on your diary. I hope you find poetry in your kitchen. Which is to say, in your life.