Monday, 20 December 2010

The Tuesday Poem: by Catherine Fitchett

Kitchen Sonnets

1
“Cream the butter and sugar”, as if by beating
hard enough we could reverse time,
return it to what it once was.
“Add the eggs”. Medieval painters
would grind their pigments for hours,
bind them with egg yolk, mix it with water.
It was Irina who told me this. How
the holy icons, the flowing robes, the shine
on the faces of the saints were built up
with layer on layer of thin transparent glaze.
I am thinking of her as I crack the shells
on the side of the bowl, let the yolks fall
like heavy haloes, one, two, three,
giving themselves up for the cake.


2
When we arrived for the summer,
the bees were there before us
– the hum in the roof above our heads
as loud as the city traffic we had left behind.
The local bee-keeper turned down the offer
of the swarm. Wild bees, he said,
too aggressive, too inaccessible.
The children couldn’t sleep, for fear of
the bee heliport above them. We called
the exterminator. Returned from a day on the lake
to a carpet of dead bees. For weeks
we kept finding them, in the cupboards,
behind the stove, and on hot days honey
dripped from the ceiling, sweet poison.

3 In memoriam Margaret Miller 1925 – 1977

Sometimes I feel ten years old, watching you
in the kitchen. You are mixing mash for the hens.
I will feed them, gather the eggs, carry them
carefully into the house. Did you ever wonder
how eggs in the nest bear the warm weight
of the hen and do not break? Here I am now,
older than you ever were. I don’t feel wise,
but astonished to have arrived in this body.
Every year there is more I do not know.
There is so much I would still ask you, but
you would not know the answers, even if you could speak.
I am the child who has run ahead on the path.
I glance over my shoulder, you are no longer there.
I am as strong as eggshells, and ready to break open.


Catherine Fitchett
From ‘Flap’, Chook book 2.


This week we’re having a kind of ‘secret santa’ Tuesday Poem - posting poems by each other - so I’m posting one of Catherine’s poems and she’s posting one of mine. Catherine’s poems are contained in both The Chook Book and Flap: The Chook Book 2, and it was quite difficult to choose one because there were so many that I liked, but I finally pared it down to this group.

I’m always impressed by someone who can write sonnets and make them completely contemporary. Writing in strict form is so hard to do. And to do three linked sonnets. Catherine apparently set out to write a series about kitchen ingredients.

I like the connection in the first sonnet between the eggs and history - certain things are timeless - a woman beating a cake, a painter mixing pigment. I particularly liked the image of the egg yolks as haloes.

I loved the second sonnet, (apparently based on a real incident) with its collision of human need and the natural world. We can’t co-exist with it - ‘Wild bees, he said,/too aggressive, too inaccessible.’ But the children can’t sleep, so the exterminator has to be called in. Dead bees can be swept out of sight, but the honey remains, dripping from the ceiling, a reminder of the massacre - ‘sweet poison’. The poem is deliberately non-judgmental, but all the more powerful for that.

Again in the third sonnet there’s a sense of timelessness - mixing up chicken feed, collecting eggs. And I related to the lines

‘Here I am now,
older than you ever were. I don’t feel wise,
but astonished to have arrived in this body.’

When Catherine wrote the line ‘the child who has run ahead on the path’ she was thinking of her mother who died at the age of fifty two. It must be a strange feeling to suddenly be older than your mother.


Catherine Fitchett studied chemistry and worked as a forensic scientist before leaving to raise a family of five children. She now works in accounts and lives in Christchurch in a house that's still standing after the earthquake, near the Heathcote River, where she writes poetry while serenaded by frogs and ducks. Other interests include genealogy and quilting. Catherine says: ‘ I'm quite convinced that if I study my family history long enough I'll find a connection to everyone in Scotland.’ Catherine’s poems appear in two collections; The Chook Book, and Flap (The Chook Book2).

For more poems by the Tuesday Poem Collective please go to http://www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/

5 comments:

  1. This sonnet sequence is one of my favourites from Catherine's "as strong as eggshells" section in the recently released Flap anthology. I always look forward to hearing Catherine's poetry in the annual Canterbury Poets' autumn reading series and to new publications, because there is always something, not just to enjoy, but to impress.

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  2. This is just lovely. So much here that is wild and domestic - and so beautifully put. Thanks Kathleen and Catherine. Merry Xmas.

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  3. bees in the roof - and eggs in the cake - lovely stuff

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  4. Oh, what a decision you must have been faced with Kathleen! All three sit so well together. My personal favourite is the first sonnet - 'the yolks fall like heavy haloes' is so subtle, but rather festive.

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  5. Lovely. I enjoyed yours over at Catherine's blog too!

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