Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Borrowed Thyme"

This poem came out of the April 7, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] moongoddessgirl, [personal profile] lynnoconnacht, [personal profile] kelkyag, and [personal profile] alexseanchai. It also fills the "mothers and fathers" square in my 3-16-15 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Frankenstein's Family.

"Borrowed Thyme"

Igor recruited Mircea to help him
teach Fridrik about the different herbs,
which meant that first he wanted
to go through the kitchen with her.

Most of the herbs Igor had to name for her,
because they were dried and bottled
and she wasn't all that good at reading.

A few had been preserved whole enough
to recognize, though, like the sprigs
of tiny curled grey-green leaves.

"Mizila," she said at once.

That wasn't a name familiar to Igor.
"Thyme," he said in English, and then
switched to Romanian. "Cimbru."

It was hard to keep track of all the languages
that people spoke locally -- even though
most of them favored Romanian or
Hungarian, all sorts of others
had gotten mixed in.

"Elderberry," he offered next,
letting her taste the purple cordial.

"Seba," she replied.

For most of the other plants
Mircea knew the Romanian name,
but those stray words stuck in Igor's mind,
making him wonder about the borrowed thyme
and the out-of-place elderberry.

Fridrik listened well enough
when he was in a good mood, but
his injuries made him sore and cranky
more often than not.

Igor also suspected that listening
just wasn't Fridrik's strong suit.

The werewolf kept wanting to smell
or taste things, which was fine for the herbs,
but definitely not fine for the poisons.

"Just look at the pictures while I describe
the characteristics and effects," Igor coaxed.
"Then you'll be able to tell them apart if
someone tries to hurt you, and that matters,
because the treatments are different."

Fridrik made it through the first couple of pages,
but when Igor turned to poison hemlock,
Fridrik whispered, "Zena," and shut the book,
pushing it away as far as he could.

"You did well today," Igor said,
trying to lighten the mood, but
Fridrik kept his face turned away.

Igor gathered up the herbal and
left Fridrik alone, silently adding this
to the list of clues about horrible things
in the werewolves' past. From now on,
one poisonous plant at a time would do.

The next day, Béla the dairyman and
his wife Évike came up the castle,
children in tow, to see the creamery
and the cheese room so they could
discuss plans for later use.

The oldest daughter Magdolna
was set to watch the other children
in the drawing room. Adam and Crina
promptly curled up together and
began whispering stories.

The creamery was in decent shape
because Igor had been using it,
even though he hadn't needed
the giant butter churns or
most of the other equipment.

The cheese room downstairs
was a shambles, though, for
some of the wooden shelves
had collapsed while others
had been gnawed by vermin.

"New shelves would be nice?"
Évike said tentatively.

"We might salvage some of this,"
Béla said, turning one board
over and over in his hands.

"I am not eating cheese off of
shelves the rats have been all over,"
Igor said firmly as he pulled the board away.
"Not when I don't have to. What we have
here is a fine stack of firewood. I'll send
for Lóránt to make new shelves."

The pressing table and cheese presses
would probably need replacements too,
but fortunately the big copper cauldron
upstairs was in perfect working order.

"Well then ... we can make a start on
cleaning out the place, at least," said Béla.

So they pulled loose the remaining shelves
and piled all the wood as neatly as possible,
then each of them carried an armload upstairs.

The children were not in the drawing room.

"Not again," Évike muttered.

"Shall we just check the last place
Crina wandered off to?" Igor suggested
as he stacked his load by the fireplace.

Sure enough, they found her in the library --
along with all the rest of the children,
Adam snuggled into Victor's lap.

Victor lowered the book he was reading from
and looked at them. "How fares our cheese room?"

"It wants a lot of work," Igor said. "We'll need
Lóránt to replace the wooden equipment,
but the room itself seems fine."

"Circus comes from Latin and it means circle,"
Crina piped in a jumble of languages.
"That's where we get circular too."

"That's nice, dear," said Évike.

"And phenomenon comes from Greek,"
Crina went on. "That's why it's phenomena
instead of phenomenas for more than one.
It means a thing that happens."

"Too much puttering about with books
can't be good for you," Évike said.
"It will make your memory go soft."

Igor had heard the same thing from
the werewolves and many of the villagers,
and he was heartily sick of it.

"Is that what you think of me and Igor?"
Victor said mildly.

Évike blushed scarlet. "Oh no, mazil,
I never meant to imply that you -- that he --"

"Well, we read a great deal, and that
is how we know to solve so many problems,"
Victor said. "Cheese, Évike. Remember
what we discussed about cheese."

"Yes, mazil," said Évike. She looked at Crina.
"I hope you found something interesting in here."

Crina nodded, quiet and tentative now
instead of bouncing with the joy of discovery.
It made Igor want to dunk her mother in a tub of whey,
but at least Crina had gotten some time in the library
before it was time to head home.

That evening, Victor and Igor enjoyed
a quiet supper with the werewolves.

Victor and Igor discussed plans
for the cheese room, while
Shandor and Janika
talked about hunting deer.

"Ara," chirped Adam, and
Igor would have ignored it
except that Shandor twitched
and growled at the boy.

Mircea promptly knocked Shandor
off his chair and rolled him onto his back.
"He plays with our cubs. He hears our words,"
she said. "Do not challenge me on this."

Shandor gave a grumbling whimper
and showed her his throat.

"Ara," she said to Adam,
and he repeated it back to her,
earning a bright smile.

Mircea must have caught Igor's
puzzled look, because then
she turned to him and said,
"River. Fluviu."

"Is that a ... private language
of some kind?" Victor asked.
"We do not wish to intrude, but
children, they grab words like candy."

"It is Dacian," said Janika. "There are
not so many of us now as there once were,
and so much of our culture is lost to us
that we cling to what little we have left."
She looked at Shandor. "But hold too hard,
and we could choke the life out of it."

"Brânză," said Mircea. "It's the same
in Dacian and Romanian, a word for cheese."

"Brânză," Adam said, giggling, and
reached for the pale wheel on the table.

Igor cut a slice for him, then another
for Mircea. "There's a recipe that Évike
was going on about, some kind of
cheese spread with herbs," he said.
"They usually get some goat milk
from Egyed to make it."

"I think I've had some," Mircea said
as she devoured the cheese.
"People make it with basil and oregano
and dill -- the leaves, not the seeds."

With that, the conversation smoothed over,
as they talked about cheese and herbs
and the herd of deer down by the river,

but now and again, a word of Dacian
would slip out, like the tail of a wolf
not quite hidden in high grass.

* * *


Romania's checkered past has left it with many languages. In this village, most people speak Romanian. Some families speak Hungarian or some other language. The people who live in the village proper are most likely to speak several languages, at least enough to conduct basic business, because they deal the most with merchants and other travelers.

Codeswitching entails changing between registers within a single language or across different languages, within the context of the same conversation. There are many reasons why people do this, and one that's not often mentioned is what happens in this poem: people using bits of non-native language to cobble together effective communication when they don't share a mother tongue but do share one or more others of varying fluency. This is typical of conversation in Europe and other multilingual environments: if you get stuck in one language, try all the others you know.

The Dacian language, here used by the werewolves, has been partially reconstructed.

Mizila is the Dacian word for thyme. In Romanian it is cimbru.

Seba is the Dacian word for elderberry.

Zena is the Dacian word for poison hemlock. Know about hemlock poisoning. Poison is a historic method of killing wolves, and in this context, also werewolves.

A creamery is a place for processing cream and other dairy products. The castle creamery is near the kitchen as part of the food handling complex on the left side of the great hall. A cheese cave is for storing cheese while it ages. The key to producing well-aged cheese in any quantity is that you need a secure place to store it for a long time. A cheese room can be a place for making and/or storing cheese. Here folks are using creamery for the upper space and cheese room for the lower space. The big copper cauldron for making cheese is in the upper room, because the lower room on the basement level lacks a fireplace for heating the milk to separate curds from whey. Once properly restored and stocked, the castle cheese room will look something like this. The pressing table and cheese presses are down here too.

The drawing room is a large comfortable room off the right side of the great hall. They use it similar to a modern living room, because the great hall is just too ridiculously big for family activities.

Loanwords come from another language. Here are some that English received from Latin and Greek.

Ara is the Dacian word for river. In Romanian it is fluviu.

One word for cheese, brânză, is the same in Romanian and Dacian, thus probably a Dacian loanword.

Raising multilingual children has its pros and cons. Among the challenges are that sometimes parents refuse to pass on a heritage language, and other times native speakers resent outsiders trying to learn it. The conflict between Shandor and Mircea is one example typical of families who speak a different language than the local vernacular. Shandor's response shows that he's still reticent about dealing with humans and not keen on sharing his culture. Mircea's response shows that she already considers Adam part of their pack, and would rather share their culture than risk it dying out. That she wins is a sign of how werewolves tend to manage rank and leadership: the males make a lot of day-to-day decisions, but the females have final say on matters of family and culture.

Enjoy a recipe for Romanian Herbed Cheese Spread. It's often made from the softer goat or sheep cheeses. Egyed raises goats and sheep for milk, meat, and wool. Béla keeps a big herd of cows, primarily for milk. People who can't keep their own dairy animals, or don't have enough for things like cheese, may turn to them to make up the difference. Évike is the best cheesemaker, so in addition to making cow-milk cheeses from their own herd, she also gets goat and sheep milk from Béla.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, food, linguistics, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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