Monday, August 13, 2007

Bowl of rice

Here is a bowl of rice -
for this your mother summons clouds
and disperses them.

She diverts rivers into each day of your life.
Birds sing for her in waterfields
drawing grain from stalk and leaves.
Mountains lend her echoes,
the snow from their peaks.

Her spoon serves a blessing of turmeric
to every lover you’ll know.
With it come bellows, a clink of charcoal,
fingers spread like rakes
through midnight’s shared groan.

Here is a bowl of rice -
for this your mother summons clouds
and disperses them.

There's a model of Brighton Pavilion in the Jubilee library at the moment, built by the Edible Construction Company, a group of artists that includes a woman I met years ago at Fabrica gallery, Emilia Telese. When my kids were young they used to think Emilia was a film star because she wears incredible clothes. She looked like a film star at the opening of the Rice Pavilion too.

The model's built from vacuum packs of risotto rice that are being donated to a food charity when the installation comes down. It fits perfectly into the massive glass frontage of the library. One of the issues it's trying to raise is food waste. Emilia asked me to write a poem (Bowl of rice) to go in a postcard pack produced for the installation. Rick Stein also donated a receipe for wild mushroom risotto. But looking through the pack, one card stands out. It's a single line: 40% of food produced in the UK is thrown away every year.

So many strands of thought are contained in that line, aren't they? A society gone wrong. Today I was sitting on a bench in Rottingdean, chatting with my mum about housing, property speculation, the impossibility of ordinary people being able to buy a home. She's a great advocate of world government and thinks it's the only way to redress the gross imbalances in place now. It seems impossible to imagine, though, when in this country now the phrase buy to let has been replaced by buy to leave empty.....people stacking up property, keeping it empty just to watch it rise in value so they have a risk free profit from it. How could a society that tolerates this kind of thinking make the leap to world government?

So we went on to talking about how some people seem to have more money than sense and got onto pet pampering. How just is it that there are hairdressers for dogs, shops selling beds, blankets, diamante collars and god knows what else for dogs, cats and probably guinea pigs? So there we are, on this bench in Rottingdean, setting the world to rights when a woman passes by with a very well groomed terrier. Well, I assume it's a terrier, I don't really know, but it has long hair and a few warts. Its owner tells us the dog is blind and going deaf, but she takes it to the vet every fortnight for a check up and has its coat cut every six weeks. The dog's had the same hairdresser for 16 years and its harness came from Harrods.

Later, when we'd had our cake and take away coffee on the beach and come back home via the allotment, laden with blackberries, more raspberries, plums and rhubarb (thank god there's some fruit at least), Mum admitted she didn't even dare look at me when Harrods was mentioned.

There was no food wasted at our table anyway. Mum brought supper and it was as if I hadn't fed anyone for weeks. Meat!!! Cake!!! Thank god she did. The house has been a youth hostel for the last couple of days. There was a crust of sliced white bread left and peanut butter. I did go down to the co-op yesterday but it was for bags of sugar to make jam. There'll be no shortage of that this year and I'm determined that even if my fingers are stained blue for days, I'll be stripping those brambles of fruit because every time I eat a ripe blackberry I have this strange double memory - one grafted onto the other - a flock of goats in a valley in Ardeche with a storm coming and a cafe in Paris drinking red wine with creme de mures.

About the only thing I've written recently, apart from bits of the story I'm nervous of calling a novel, is some notes for a series of poems on different fruits: raspberry, blackberry, elderberry are there on the frontline...I did one years ago called Graveyard jam, but I'm going to put the names of the dead on the jars the next time I go picking in the cemetary. It seems fair.

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