By Robert Hass
October 12, 1997
A poem for the harvest season, from Carol Muske's "An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems" (Penguin). A critic and novelist as well as a poet, Muske has just published a collection of essays, "Women and Poetry: Autobiography and the Shape of Truth."

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Illustration by Anthony Russo
Illustration by Anthony Russo
The Invention of Cuisine

By Carol Muske

Imagine for a moment
the still life of our meals,
meat followed by yellow cheese,
grapes pale against the blue armor of fish.
Imagine a thin woman
before bread was invented,
playing a harp of wheat in the field.
There is a stone, and behind her
the bones of the last killed,
the black bird on her shoulder
that a century later
will fly with murderous and trained intent.
They are not very hungry
because cuisine has not yet been invented.
Nor has falconry,
nor the science of imagination.
All they have is the pure impulse to eat,
which is not enough to keep them alive
and this little moment
before the woman redeems
the sprouted seeds at her feet
and gathers the olives falling from the trees
for her recipes.
Imagine. Out in the fields
this very moment
they are rolling the apples to press,
the lamb turns in a regular aura of smoke.
See, the woman looks behind her
before picking up the stone,
looks back once at the beasts,
the trees,
that sky
above the white stream
where small creatures live and die
looking upon each other
as food.

From "An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems," by Carol Muske. Copyright 1997, Carol Muske. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking Penguin.

Robert Hass, former U.S. poet laureate, is the author, most recently, of the collection "Sun Under Wood."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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