“Pear Relish”, by Claude Barbre

Pear Relish
At ninety-five my grandmother would wake
when daylight, tasseled just beneath the east,
enfolded morning glimmers like the gold
of cornsilk tufted inside their green cocoons 

dew-husked by dawn, and rise to songs of birds, 
compelled from ails and shallow drowse to dress,
and wade into a garden’s rumpled rows
where sunbows garnished gloves of rabbit ears

and early shows of overspreading chard
entwisted canted grafts of butter beans 
along the okra caps a white-tailed doe
had missed when startled by unwonted sounds,

and zagged beyond clematis into woods.
With care she would survey the planted plots,
each patch like crewel duvets suffused with down,
and stand hip-deep in mint and borage blooms,

the hushed remands of ruffled lilies hued
with sepals bowed chatoyant in their poised
ephemera, to work the weeds away, 
her small arthritic hands still stronger than

the men she could outlive again with ease. 
By middle morn she’d pick a basket load
of ready yields, succession herbs and fruit,
but always tarried by the Kieffer pears

as though she’d wandered into a salon
of artists famous for their pear tableaux,
conspicuous with commentary nods,
and calyx wrinkles creased along her brow,

her reaching arms like maestro trained batons,
that tap backstage anticipating how
an oboe A will tune an orchestra 
before the pause that falls to overtures

replete with rondo themes for harvest picks, 
and tempos timed for kitchen alchemy.
And home again, the screen door propped to porch,
she’d follow recipes for relish drupes,

with canning troupes incarnate with reports
on juliennes of cinnamon and cloves
and tips on wedging unripe pomes to mince
in sausage grinders given to enmesh

the coarse and verdant crisp of meaty flesh 
that raw in oblong shapes both hard and soft
resembled faces that her features made,
a toughened guise grown softer by the years,

though always hard inside from life’s travails.
And soon to add the cider vinegar,
a touch of turmeric to gild the grail,
would bring to boil the auric bouillon mash,

in sync au sec with summer’s repertoire
of roused cicadas’ late crescendo surge
that thrummed the last ingredients to add:
sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar, spice.

Into the jars and sealing domes the blend
would settle until cooled to ochre pulp,
the fetes where spooned ambrosia would tell
if all had gone according to the plan,

and usually it went with everything,
accompanied with grateful dialects
of incoherent praise with mouths too full
to say what happiness it was to taste.

“Don’t look back or cows will lick your cheeks,”
my grandmother would say and send a wink--
an idiom equation of Lot’s wife
who turned to salt, and salt the cattle like--

then satisfied, the dishes done, she’d sit
with nudging cricks of which she never once 
complained though pained enough to plainly see,
and rock the easy chair to Lawrence Welk.

Claude Barbre, Ph.D., L.P., is Distinguished Full Professor, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. He is the Course-Lead Coordinator of the Psychodynamics Orientation, and lead faculty in the Child and Adolescent Studies. Dr. Barbre served for 12 years as Executive Director of The Harlem Family Institute, a New York City school-based, psychoanalytic training program. Author of prize-winning articles, books, and poetry, Dr. Barbre is a five-time recipient of the International Gradiva Award for “outstanding contributions to psychoanalysis and the arts.” He is currently a Board Member and Training Supervisor at The Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis (CCP), and in private practice in Chicago.

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