Perhaps Bitter is Not Poison After All
You have to teach a child to eat artichokes, demonstrate the peeling of each leaf which is really a petal, the gleaning of the tender, the discarding of the shell. Still, what would make a toddler eat this? Everything about her, from taste buds to grimace to savannah history, knows that bitter is poison. Why would her instincts be wrong? She scrapes that cake out with the pebbles that pass for teeth, then swallows. She adjusts to all condiments: mayonnaise, melted butter, eventually vinaigrette. She grows up to be a woman who does not need very much to be happy.
The Smell of Prowess
If you have a kettle in your genetics, you will feel guilt at dropping even a speck. This is not a dainty heritage; it is one that wheezes and growls, that squats and lifts oxen-drawn carts in a rage or on a dare, sending clouds of poultry feathers back to the ranch. Five towns over the milk maids know your family name, pronounce it with a pleasant trepidation while sitting on the wooden stool, a cramp threatening their palms, the smell of prowess in the air. But now you are on a new continent in a new age, with a name that shares just a first syllable with your old one, as if more than half of you had jumped overboard on the crossing. “I’m in sales,” you say to the woman who is so blonde to your dark that your histories cannot speak the same language. If she made it a point to tell the truth without dressing it up, she would tell you that your muscles are suffocating, that they were not made for sitting or suits or sealing up flat expensive packages for FedEx. Instead, she says, “Aren’t we all?” You have been with plenty of women, but this one has irony, and you wonder if she bleeds. You decide to leave and to lie, walk out with a limp, in search of your cane, your personal arrow, pinning you to a past you have heard about only in rumors.
Gathering and Hunting
She was picking slugs out of the lettuce. It was the least she could do. Everyone else was off at war, sometimes called work. The anecdotal evidence suggests man must work and the birds fly. The forensic evidence suggests man must fight over barley, over elk, over fuel. She watched a demonstration once, an archeologist showing how to make an arrowhead, audience stifling yawns. Instead of obsidian, he used the thick bottom of a jug wine bottle, more readily available nowadays than the black volcanic glass. His hands were bloody, his pride was high. This was not a man who would stay home to gather, to subtly light fires to make seeds bloom more fervently next year in a manner that was not quite gardening, but still implied intimacy and forethought. Neither would he bend over wooden boxes, reach unbloodied fingers between shards of lettuce, feel for the round slime. Some of the slugs are dots, full of potential; others have lengthened, even reproduced. She is delicate in her scoop, to avoid bruising the greens and reds, the frills, the tongues of all those edibles. Then she smashes, with stone, stick, or those unbloodied fingers. But perhaps they now have blood on them.
Frances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, named one of five “Best Memoirs of 2010″ by SheKnows.com. She has been nominated for twice for the Pushcart Prize, once forBest American Essays, and once for the James Beard Award for Food Writing, among other near-awards. She is at home here.