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Poem: "A Kettle of Fish" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "A Kettle of Fish"

This poem came out of the June 19, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from zianuray, janetmiles, and meeksp.  It has been sponsored by janetmiles.  This is a direct sequel to "A Chorus of Voices," following later in the same day and featuring the perspective of a different character.  Tidbits of research for this poem include colcannonHokusai, lutefisk, Swedish ceramics, and wabi-sabi.  You can read more about the Hart's Farm series on the Serial Poetry page.


A Kettle of Fish


Ketiley was helping Una in the kitchen,
her black hair tucked under a kerchief,
white apron protecting her red-and-white shirt.
She lifted pieces of lutefisk  out of their cold-water bath.
Meanwhile Una prepared the potatoes and kale
to make colcannon  in the big skillet.

Someone rapped on the door of the kitchen.
"I am Fabrice.  I paint," he said,
then motioned to the pretty foreign girl with him.
"She is Ayako.  She models.
Finlo says, we are staying for supper."
"What do you two want to eat?"
Una asked them.

Fabrice and Ayako conferred in French.
"Ayako likes fish," said Fabrice.
"She eats it raw, when she can get it new enough."
"Perhaps not the lutefisk, then,"
Ketiley said, frowning down at the slabs she was salting.
"Does she like salmon?  We could ask Muirgen
to try catching some fresh."

"Salmon, yes, with the white rice in these little rolls,"
he said, twiddling his fingers in the air.
"We have rice for making rice pudding and such,"
Ketiley said.  "I can put some on."
She caught one of the boys in the kitchen
and sent to him to ask Muirgen for fresh salmon.

"Is there anything you cannot eat?"
Una asked Fabrice.
"Nuts make me ill," the painter said.
Ketiley sighed.  The nut cake
was already in the oven.

"We can make another dessert besides nut cake,"
Una said.  "There are plenty of apples for pie."
That would add time to getting supper on the table,
but then so would cooking rice
and getting a salmon from Muirgen,
so perhaps it was just as well.

"We do not mean to make extra work," said Fabrice.
Una shrugged.  "We will cook what you can eat,
you will not complain about what you cannot eat,
and that will be fair," she declared.  Fabrice nodded.

Ayako tapped the ceramic bowl that Ketiley brought out,
saying something complicated.  Ketiley shook her head.
"Wabi,"  Ayako said more slowly.
"What does that mean?" Ketiley asked Fabrice.

"It is the fancy Japanese word for things
that are pretty because they are not perfect," he said.
Ketiley looked at the bowl that the potter Esja had rejected
because something had gone wrong with the rock salt in the kiln
so that the dark brown glaze formed unevenly.  
Ketiley liked it that way.  "Wabi," she said,
happy to have a word for the idea.

"How did Ayako wind up speaking French
and living in Sweden?" Ketiley wondered.
Fabrice grinned.  "Her father trades --
fine china, silk, dyes and paints.
Ayako traveled with him, learning the work," he said.
"We met and I offered her higher pay to pose for me!
We spent two years in France, and then
we came here to enjoy a change of scenery.
She learns my French, I learn her Japanese."

Presently Muirgen came in with a small salmon,
and they all watched Ayako clean the fish,
silver knife flashing as she cut large steaks to cook
and finger-sized strips to go raw with the rice.
She did odd things with the rice too, rinsing it with vinegar,
so that it stuck together when rolled with the salmon.

The apple pie was made, and placed
at Fabrice's end of the table,
with the nut cake on the far end.
Ayako happily devoured her share of fish and rice,
and liked the colcannon -- though as Ketiley predicted,
she wrinkled her nose at the lutefisk.

Most of the young boys, and a few other people,
wanted to try the raw fish.  Ketiley sampled it,
and it squeaked between her teeth,
but did not taste as bad as she had imagined.

Ayako carried on a lively conversation in French
with Fabrice and Finlo about the art of someone called Hokusai,
which the two men translated in bits and pieces.
Ketiley followed along as best she could,
thinking about the beauty of imperfections
and how fine it would be to travel the world --
or even just have more of it wander through her kitchen.

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9 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: June 21st, 2012 07:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've seen non-Scandinavians attempting to eat lutefisk, so I'm more likely to be in Ayako's column than Ketiley's.

I especially liked the part where Una shrugged. "We will cook what you can eat, / you will not complain about what you cannot eat, / and that will be fair," she declared. An excellent approach to feeding large groups with varying needs and preferences.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 21st, 2012 07:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

I'm glad you like the poem!

>>I've seen non-Scandinavians attempting to eat lutefisk, so I'm more likely to be in Ayako's column than Ketiley's.<<

Many cultures have something like sushi or lutefisk that they love but other people consider weird. I'm willing to sample most foods to see what I like.

>>An excellent approach to feeding large groups with varying needs and preferences.<<

It's one of the house rules here at Fieldhaven, and seems popular with some intentional communities as well. But it can be hard to teach people if they haven't grown up with it, for some reason. I think it's a good fit for Hart's Farm and their particular approach to mixing cultures and people.

cflute From: cflute Date: December 9th, 2016 08:44 am (UTC) (Link)

culinary flexibility

>> "We will cook what you can eat, / you will not complain about what you cannot eat, / and that will be fair," <<

Simple, sensible, sane. I once had a vegan friend over for dinner - fortunately *not* on short notice. After mentally reviewing several favorite recipes and realizing that none of them were suitable, I had a brilliant idea to ask him for a few of *his* favorites. That way I knew I'd be serving something he could eat and enjoy. It worked splendidly, and I got a great ratatouille recipe out of it. Everybody wins!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 9th, 2016 08:51 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: culinary flexibility

Yeah, it works for everything short of allergies that require an ambulance if triggered. We don't put those on the table, it's too risky.

We often ask people what they like or want to have. We own hundreds of cookbooks; it's rarely difficult to find something suitable for one person. Assembling a meal for several people each with different dietary issues is more challenging.
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: July 3rd, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Loved that part too!
ellenmillion From: ellenmillion Date: June 22nd, 2012 11:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
but... but... gravlax (lox)! Swedes already know how tasty raw (though lightly brined) salmon can be! (And it's much squeakier brined than plain!) They'd probably think it was pretty bland without the brine, but raw would not be weird. Alas, I was in Sweden during the wrong season for lutefisk - I never did get a chance to try it. Pickled herring are delicious, though.

This poem makes me hungry.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 23rd, 2012 01:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> but... but... gravlax (lox)! Swedes already know how tasty raw (though lightly brined) salmon can be! <<

I have had gravlax, and sushi and sashimi. I like both, though I prefer the raw to the brined salmon, and their textures are different. I find that raw salmon squeaks more, and has a brighter fish flavor. YMMV.

>>This poem makes me hungry.<<

Yay! I guess it worked then.
my_partner_doug From: my_partner_doug Date: June 23rd, 2012 03:04 am (UTC) (Link)

But...but...

In defense of the cooking crew at Hart's Farm, proper gravlax takes at *least* two days to prepare, and the need was to produce something for that evening's meal. And it isn't necessarily an intuitive leap that something that's edible once salt-cured is equally edible raw: salmon can certainly be consumed with relative safety in either state, but the same premise doesn't hold with pork.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 23rd, 2012 03:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: But...but...

Yeah, there's a big difference between saying "We're coming to supper next week" vs. "We're staying for supper tonight" (when it's about an hour from the table) in terms of what you can get to eat.
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