“But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread, / the thing her father said that hurt her, what / she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous / as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.” – Robert Hass, “Meditation at Lagunitas”
“Mostly when I think of her kitchen I think of bread. A big bag of it with rolls strewn, tumbling out getting stale in the air. It seemed so outrageous to me, this tiny advertisement of plenty. That’s what her sexiness was like.” – Eileen Myles, Chelsea Girls
“Cooked lunch today and made a loaf of really expert bread” – Virginia Woolf
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
A cold winter’s day in Colorado. The light dies early. Snow outside. Ice on the window pane. We are crowded around the living room table. My family. Mother brother father cross-legged on the speckled carpet. I picture them as they are now, but this is a projection. They were younger, I was younger. I was a child. I don’t remember how old, what day, what year. But I remember the textures. Napkins and placemats woven in shades of pink, unrolled over the hard cherry wood. We had plates but no forks. Knives but nothing to cut except the soft stick of butter placed like a sacrament in the middle of the table. Next to it, a plank of wood. On it, a loaf of bread. Steam curling upwards from the just-hardened crust. My father cutting through the loaf. Thick slices falling like meat from the bone. One slice each, placed on plates and slathered slathered slathered with butter.
The first loaf of homemade bread I ever ate.
Feast, v.: To eat and drink sumptuously.
Put your fingers under the tap, my uncle says. I am sixteen, learning how to make a loaf of my own. Is it warm? I nod. Tell me when it’s too hot. I wait. Now? He turns the handle back. How about now? He asks. Warm but not too hot, I say.
So warm you almost can’t bear it. Just as much as you can bear.
Water, milk and butter. Heat. Yeast and sugar. Mix, then let it grow.
Every night for months I stopped by the boulangerie. Carried bouquets of leavened flour through the twilit streets of Montpellier. Carried them to her, for her. In the apartment, I laid them on the table, watching as her fingers reached, dismantled, devoured. How her face shone. How we danced and marveled and created ourselves in the windowless rooms of Rue Durand. Chopin on the radio at sunset when the rooftops glowed. Her balcony. The thousand confessions of sea-whipped air.
When I had nothing else to offer, I could offer bread. When we had nothing left to give, at least we had this. A memory we could carry. A weight we could bear.
Flour, Salt. Add the liquids and stir. Transfer onto a floured board. Knead, pressing down and out and away, turning and pressing again, heel of the hand against the weight of creation.
I will always remember the last baguette we ever shared. She, deftly cutting through the crust, first lengthwise and then in half. Me, slicing the aged comte, preparing the arugula and apple. My tiny French kitchen cleaner than it had ever been, a parting gesture. Down the hall, suitcases open. Clothes littering the bed, the floor, the couch. What to leave and what to take. How much could I carry. How much could I bear.
When the kneading ceases, let it rise. Let it rise, and watch it fall.
Months pass and I am nowhere near her. You arrive in the heat of the fire, in the darkness of night. The gaping silence of the chalk cliffs, the expansive hum of a home we never knew we shared. The loaf I brought was hard and round. I said we should cut it, you said we should tear. And so you tore into me. Asked for the balcony, for the rooftops, for the qualities of sea-whipped air. I gave them to you as willingly as wood to the fire, as smoke to the air.
Take the fallen dough into your hands and caress it into roundness. Place the roundness in the pan, let it rise again.
I want us to remember ourselves as we were then, awake together in our restless untangling. In the winter the cold beat against the window where our heads lay, connected by the quiet breath of almost-sleep. I will always remember you as you were then. The benediction of morning, the pain of initial separation. The way you spread peanut butter on bread as the sun rose. They day you carved a heart in the layer of smooth brown with the tip of the knife, and handed it to me. You could never finish yours. I always did. I thought perhaps I could shrink myself, be filled by what filled you, consumed by what consumed you, consumed by you. I thought this was enough to get us through the night, to morning. The promise of a shared fulfillment, an equal yearning, a measured joy. Rushing together, headlong into daylight.
In the oven it will rise gently, then cease to grow. You will turn down the heat to warm the inside through. The outside will become hard. The inside soft, dense.
I want to remember myself as I was then, crowded around a table in the middle of winter, inebriated by the milky white center of a just-baked loaf. A celebration of singular plenty. I want to remember myself as I was then, satiated by bread and butter alone. No balconies, no suitcases, no chalk cliffs. Eating and drinking sumptuously, surrounded by a love that I could trust.
Feasting. Feasting. Feasting on my life.