Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reflections on a Gift of a Watermelon Pickle

While taking our afternoon constitution around and around the third floor of our building, a co-worker and I started talking about some baking plans. We talked about pies and making itty-bitty one-bite versions. And then we talked about making jam.

I loved freezer jam as a kid. My mom and I would go out to Phillips Road in Webster and spend a morning at a U-Pick gathering basket upon basket of warm strawberries. I would proudly hold up large berries I found that were almost obscene with how deep red and luscious they looked.

Later in the day, we would begin the cleaning process. I would be set at the kitchen table with a paring knife, wooden cutting board, and two bowls. One would hold the washed strawberries, the other the strawberries after I quartered them. Every so often my mom would check in and admonish me to cut especially large berries into smaller pieces before pouring cupfuls of white sugar onto the growing pile of cut-up redness.

My next job was to decimate the berries, sugar and some lemon juice into a sugary conglomeration. When my mom wasn't looking, I'd dip a finger in to taste the fresh tartness and refined sugar exploding in my mouth. That flavor could instantly remove me from a frigid Autumn day to sitting at the kitchen table, watching a cutting board turn red with sweet juice underneath my careful hands that turned fruit into childhood memories.

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity
- John Tobias

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer--
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was--
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

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