Kia ora koutou,
The following poem was inspired by some lines from my play Setting The Table (1982). Two characters talk about why they’re doing what they do (marching for women’s rights, working to keep streets safe at night, looking after victims of abuse) and one says to the other,
‘We’re setting the table, right? We might not be the ones to sit down at the table but we’ll get it ready…’
So the poem is a celebratory over the top one about the day we all sit down at the table. Its been published before and is in my memoir These Two Hands pub Makaro Press. Ann Marie Stapp quoted it in the play I wrote for the Otaki Women’s Labour Committee, and she did it again at my 90th birthday in the Barn. I thought of it over the weekend when I was going through old photos and there was a group of us who stood together on corners and shouted…this is for them…
And as we gather..
Let us thank the stranger on the train
Let us agree to smile at everyone
Let us buy one hundred books of poems
Let us pick roses and common thyme
Let us create seven chocolate desserts
Let us pour red wine into glasses
Let us dance our way to the room
Let us sing those forgotten songs
Let us celebrate this shining moment
Let us sit down at the table
Kia ora koutou…
Sight, sound, taste, touch.smell, the five senses and the greatest of them, it is said, is taste. I don’t know how true this is but its certainly up there. I had my first taste of asparagus for this spring, last week, and as always I soaked the ends in water in a glass, then when I was ready to cook them, I broke off the hard bits, boiled some water, poured it over the top and cooked them. Not too soft. Then I placed them on a plate, put some butter on top, scattered some salt, grabbed a fork and stood at the bench and ate the delicious mouthfuls.
I looked out the window but I wasn’t seeing the apple tree, the pruned roses, the flower growth, the weeds, the lawn, I was seeing my brother and sister come into another kitchen, both looking a bit tired, both hungry, both triumphant. Joe, their boss, had given them a bunch each today. They had been up to start picking by 5am, the start time, and once there, backs bent, had worked nonstop for two and a half hours, cutting the new day’s asparagus and placing it gently into bags. When they started this job, Val was 11 and Jimmy was 12. They would do it for another three or four years. They always bought a bunch or two home, depending on how Joe was feeling. He usually felt pretty good apparently because they never came home without at least one bunch each.
In their later adolescent years, while they washed and got dressed for work, I was the cook. I would have the table set, ans once they appeared, would boil the kettle, cook the asparagus, dole it out on plates, put a poached egg (or two) on top. They added their own butter and salt. We were all young, I was just married, our mother was dead so Val and Jim lived with us in the house our mother had rented and which I now did.
Over the meal we’d talk about what we’d be up to that day. Val would go into work at the pharmacy where she developed and printed all the photographs for customers who came in with rolls of film, my brother would go up to the boot repairers where he was finishing his apprenticeship. He could have left when our mother died but he said Rose wanted him to do it so he’d finish it. As soon as he’d finished that apprenticeship he be off on his adventures. But tonight was band practice. He played pipes in the Port Ahuririr Pipe Band and Val was meeting George after work so neither of them would be home for tea with us.
Now, as I ate more asparagus I wondered what other foods give others these instant memories. That first nectarine picked from the tree? Those first two red strawberries? The first tomato? Or it could be the shared food – the roasts, the vegetables, the mint sauce, the faces around the table as they see this year’s Palova being carried to the table. Will it have cherries as well as strawberries?
Then there’s that friend, who was so staunch when most other were not, and she made me little asparagus rolls and strong cups of tea. I think of other cups of tea, other friends who have been there for me when I needed them. I remember those ordinary old beef sausages cooked after a hard days work in the garden, and yes, that first totally delicious drink of cold artesian water after that long walk up and down the hill at the back of Taradale when we forgot to take water – oh that first mouthful as it slid down our dry aching throats.
All this, and more, from a mouthful two of asparagus…maybe that conclusion is right? Maybe taste is the sense that outlasts all.