2 June 2013

Poem: Chy an Peber

Photo: SallyDouglas

I was reading this week about Slow Food UK's campaign to revive forgotten British foods - among them the Cornish saffron cake. Well, the saffron cake fills my childhood with its fragrant yellow yeastiness. My grandfather was an artisan baker, and for me as a small child the bakery was a place of enchantment and fear. I was terrified of the ovens, which were black and cavernous, and had something of Grimm about them, but I was equally entranced by the magical transformations that took place each night in this strangely unremarkable-looking house of wonders. And reading about the revival of the saffron cake - which to be honest has never been lost in Cornwall - I was reminded of a poem I wrote a while back. Saffron cake is definitely in there, but the main stars are the Cornish pasties.

I read this poem at my Grandfather's funeral.

Chy an Peber
(House of the Baker)

For my Grandfather, Lloyd George Trethewey

It’s your domain: an almost-creature,
a watchful dragon leaking light
through the interstices of night. Its yeasty breath
warms drowsers in dark houses,
reminding them of morning.

Inside, the heat-noise-light of
Milton’s Pandemonium.

A restless anchor roils and cleaves
elastic saffron sea,
shoals of currants tossed by endless waves.
In a vast vat a huge pale belly swells.
Deep-stitched quilts of fresh baked bread
already snuggle in their beds,
but in another place a groaning mouth rasps
pebbles of potatoes with its teeth.
A barrel of knives throws weeping dice
of onion, swede and naked spud.

You pour out the dusty roll of soft cream velvet.
Armed with a sharpened saucepan lid you frisbee
perfect circles, stack them into Pisan towers.

And now creation.  A miner’s lunch halfmooned by
those punched holes. Rope-edged.
Your fingers type a perfect crimp, neat rows
of baby toes on a foreshortened foot. Pale purses
in neat ranks, upon the tray’s parade.
You love their schoolgirl uniformity. Banish
some because their pleats aren’t neat.

And then into the dark cave’s heat, the dragon’s
lung. Its breath is savoury, meaty, with a taint
of adolescent sweat, the smell of ripening.

And finally they’re born, and borne aloft, slid into
cooling racks to settle and to breathe. Suntanned shells
with perfect fluted frills. Keen oysters eager for the feast.

Outside, night’s mouseness slips away.
Shops are lifting up the eyelids of their blinds.
The vans move off, as carefully as hearses.                                       


Sally Douglas 2008