Mary Bilyeu: Poetry ponderings from the produce section

·3 min read

Aug. 22—I read a beautiful poem by Alison Luterman recently, "I Confess":

I stalked her

in the grocery store: her crown

of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,

her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,

watching the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her basket,

beaming peace like the North Star.

I wanted to ask, "What aisle did you find

your serenity in, do you know

how to be married for fifty years or how to live alone,

excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to possess

some knowledge that makes the earth turn and burn on its axis—"

But we don't request such things from strangers

nowadays. So I said, "I love your hair."

I can picture these women so very clearly, can't you?

There's the wise one who both dresses and eats simply, who has always been careful with regard to consumption, and also careful in her human interactions. Her gentleness comes through quietly but certainly.

And there's the one (the one like me) who craves that sense of peace, that way of being with the universe instead of questioning it, who will follow any path — including the one of this shopper through the aisles — to find it.

This poem reminds me of a Magazine page I've wanted to do for years, which hasn't received a particularly supportive response and so ... well, it waits. I wait.

I envision the full photo-driven page with a short block of text. There might be a poem, not even any words from me. That part hasn't been settled in my mind yet.

But the pictures ... I know precisely what the eight or so pictures are already. I see them so clearly, as though I only need a pensieve from the Harry Potter books to pull the images out of my mind, fully formed.

Any time I've gone to various churches or festivals or homes for food prep sessions, I see older women (most often) and men in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s.

And as much as I love watching them work, as much as I love hearing their stories and memories, as much as I love witnessing their dedication to a cause or an organization or the celebration of a holiday, and as much as I love sampling their wares, there is one thing that I love more than any other: watching their still-nimble hands.

Hands that have filled and folded thousands of pierogi. Hands that have mixed, patted out, and cut a lifetime's worth of biscuits. Hands that have wrapped up countless dolmades or golabki. Hands that have pinched patterns into multitudes of date- or walnut-filled cookies. Hands that have rolled out and woven so very many tender, flaky pie crusts.

These hands have swollen arthritic knuckles that undoubtedly hurt, but not enough to serve as an excuse. They're wrinkled, spotted, and more beautiful than ever, infused with decades of learning, refining, and perfecting until the necessary motions have been imbedded into muscle memory.

I want to capture in photos the hands of these artists, these nurturers.

Because a picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words.

But these half-a-thousand words may need to suffice in painting the pictures of these hands — hands which the woman with a crown of snowy braids undoubtedly possesses, too.

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