Last week, I wrote this post about global warming and this post about nuclear pollution. It's easy to sink into despair when one thinks about the challenges faced by our beautiful planet.
How do we deal with the burden of this awareness? Sunday, I heard a great interview between Terry Tempest Williams and Krista Tippett on the NPR show On Being (go here to listen, to read the transcript, and/or to enjoy the extras). Williams says, "You know, I have a friend, Linda Asher, who's a translator of Milan Kundera. She was an editor for years at The New Yorker, in international fiction in particular. And she said something very provocative the other day where she said, 'I'm not sure eloquence is enough. I'm not sure language is enough.' And that really stopped me because for me words are everything, and I know for her words are everything. But she said, 'You know, that's too easy. It's like being too beautiful.' And she brought it back down to the notion of action. And I realized, I said, "Thank you for reminding me." And I think that was the power for me in making the mosaics. It took me out of my head into my hands, into creating something real with other people. I mean, mosaic by its very nature is a collaborative process. And, you know, beauty is not optional, but it is a strategy for survival."
Her comment made me think about bread baking. I often return to bread baking in an effort to remind myself of who I am at my essential core. It's nice to have that practice. Years ago, I wrote this poem, as I thought about those high school years when I made the most bread, from 1979-1983. It was published in the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review.
Demands of Dough
Each decade ushers in a new genocide;
each bloody crime introduces histories
of humans I’ve never heard of before. Each
year’s newscast schools me in ways to slaughter
masses of humans efficiently, human rights
violated in ways I never would have imagined. Yet,
the familiarity persists as well. Auschwitz,
Cambodia, Rwanda: an ongoing, constant
story of corpses stacked like cordwood, rivers choked
with bodies, a consistent backdrop
to the bloodiest century on record.
I turn off the news and declare a news fast.
I pull out my old recipe books to revisit
an earlier self, the vegetarian pacifist with a quick
temper, the girl who marched on Washington
to protest Apartheid and arms races and abortion
rights backsliding. I pull yeast and flour
out of my cupboard and knead myself younger.
My first loaf of homemade bread. What possessed
my mother to suggest it? Vegetarian seminarians
coming for dinner and a long, summer afternoon
to fill. What kept me baking? Praise.
An excuse to play with dough. Desire
for more nutritious food. By age seventeen, I’m the only
high school senior with her own garden.
I can think short term. I may not live
to see my twenties, especially if our president
continues to joke about bombing the Soviet Union.
But I’m able to invest the space and time
a rising bread dough demands.
I’m willing to commit to a germinating seed,
willing to hope for one more season of growth.
That was before cable brought us multiple news
channels. Somehow the abstraction of a cold
war and an arms race disturbed me less
than these scenes of neighbors butchering
each other. I cannot process misery at this scale.
I return to what I can handle:
yeast and a pinch of sugar, oats and flour,
a window sill of seedlings,
an afternoon of tea and books.
It is probably long past time to return to bread baking again!
feeling the feelings…
5 months ago