Sunday, January 30, 2022

A Chicken in the Pan

Carnival Blue “Hen-on-Nest” Dish
by Indiana Glass Company

You can find a couple of poems by Barbara Crooker on my blogs: most recently "Monopoly 1955" on the Fortnightly (see "Literary Board Games") and "Ordinary Life" on a Quotidian post from way back in 2011 (see "The Moon"). I wanted to re-post them here together, because both poems feature the mouth-watering imagery of chicken cooking on the stove, the homiest of meals.

As food writer / novelist Laurie Colwin (1944 - 1992) once described her own "legendary roasted chicken":
"Roast Chicken . . . is almost everyone's favoirte dish. I have never seen a menu outside of a vegetarian restaurant that does not list some variety or other of it. In the old days I used to slip herbs and savory things like porcini mushrooms under the skin and baste the chicken constantly, but I have gradually come to know that none of these things is necessary. . . . There is nothing like roast chicken. It is helpful and agreeable, the perfect dish no matter what the circumstances. Elegant or homey, a dish for a dinner party or a family supper, it will not let you down" (72, 167).

from her cookbook / memoir More Home Cooking See also "Feasts and Seasons" and "Homebody Somebody"]
Colwin lets you know how to prepare the chicken, focusing more on TLC than on technique; and Barbara Crooker's poems capture the same tender loving care and deliciousness. It's all there -- taste, touch, sight, smell; perhaps even the sound of that "roiling" bubble. Crooker describes simmering chicken dinners that could be based on Colwin's recipes: humble yet elegant; affordable yet pricelessly bonding the family at dinnertime:
Ordinary Life
This was a day when nothing happened,
the children went off to school
without a murmur, remembering
their books, lunches, gloves.
All morning, the baby and I built block stacks
in the squares of light on the floor.
And lunch blended into naptime,
I cleaned out kitchen cupboards,
one of those jobs that never gets done,
then sat in a circle of sunlight
and drank ginger tea,
watched the birds at the feeder
jostle over lunch's little scraps.
A pheasant strutted from the hedgerow,
preened and flashed his jeweled head.
Now a chicken roasts in the pan,
and the children return,
the murmur of their stories dappling the air.
I peel carrots and potatoes without paring my thumb.
We listen together for your wheels on the drive.
Grace before bread.
And at the table, actual conversation,
no bickering or pokes.
And then, the drift into homework.
The baby goes to his cars, drives them
along the sofa's ridges and hills.
Leaning by the counter, we steal a long slow kiss,
tasting of coffee and cream.
The chicken's diminished to skin & skeleton,
the moon to a comma, a sliver of white,
but this has been a day of grace
in the dead of winter,
the hard cold knuckle of the year,
a day that unwrapped itself
like an unexpected gift,
and the stars turn on,
order themselves
into the winter night.

[emphasis added]

Monopoly 1955
We start by fanning out the money, colored
like Necco wafers: pink, yellow, mint, gold.
From the first roll of the dice, differences widen:
the royal blues of Boardwalk and Park Place
look down their noses at the grapey immigrants
from Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues.
My grandparents coming from Italy in steerage
measured their gold in olive oil, not bank notes
and deeds. The man in the top hat and tuxedo
always holds the good cards. The rest of us
hope we can pay the Electric Company.
We know there is no such thing as Free Parking,
and Bank Errors are never in our favor.
In the background, Johnny Mathis croons
Chances Are from the cracked vinyl radio.
We played for hours, in those years
before television, on the Formica table,
while my mother coaxed a chicken,
cooking all day on the back burner, to multiply
itself into many meals. The fat rose to the surface,
a roiling ocean of molten gold.

[emphasis added]

both poems by Barbara Crooker (b 1945)
Supper at Emmaus ~ Caravaggio ~ 1601

See: A Chicken in Every Pot
"I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor
that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday
~ Henry IV of France ~

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