More than food, with pieces by Mark Harris and Fran Markover.
It’s that time of year when we think about the miracle of birth, new beginnings. And eggs.
Mark Harris said that he was inspired to write his short story “Chicken Soup” by the relationship between his elderly mother and her caretaker. Here’s an excerpt.
Rose gazes at the plate of runny eggs and potatoes. Nauseated, she pushes the food away.
Amelia gently nudges the plate in front of her patrona. “Eat!” she repeats, this time in English. “You must eat!”
Rose ignores her plea and shoves the plate back again.
“I made the eggs just the way you like them,” Amelia entreats in Spanish, although she knows that Rose probably doesn’t understand. It wouldn’t make any difference if she spoke in English or if Rose wore her hearing aid. She only hears what she wants. “Breakfast is important,” Amelia continues in Spanish. “You know what they say: ‘Eat a big breakfast, a bigger lunch, and a light dinner and you will live a long life.’”
At 88, Rose has lived long enough. “You eat!” she snaps and thrusts the plate across the kitchen table to her Salvadoran aide. Even though Amelia’s already had breakfast, she picks up a fork and dutifully begins to eat what she cooked for Rose this morning. It’s a sin to let food go to waste. She thinks of the many days there were only tortillas and salt in Chalatenango.
. . . Amelia watches her prickly, pursed-lip employer, with bald patches in her hair like the worn spots in her pink velour bathrobe, and wonders how someone who’s lived so long, and with so much money, has turned out to be such a miserable vieja. Amelia has been attending to Rose three months now — five days a week, from eight in the morning to six at night — and finds her as hard-shelled and sharp-clawed as an armadillo.
Amelia clears the table, washes the frying pan, and puts the dishes in the washer. When she looks back at Rose, she sees the paper drooping in her hands and her head resting on her chest. With all the naps Rose takes during the day, it’s not surprising that she can’t sleep at night. Nights are hard for Amelia too. Alone, in the dark, it’s hard to shut out memories of the past and fears for the future. Now she keeps them at bay by cleaning the stove and straightening the pantry. She clatters around the kitchen noisily enough to wake Rose.
An excerpt from Mark Harris’s story “Chicken Soup” from Passager Issue 70. He said, “Rose in the story was not my mother, and Amelia was not her caretaker, but one of the many women from El Salvador I came to know.”
Fran Markover grew up on a small poultry farm in the Catskill Mountains, so when it comes to eggs, she knows of what she speaks. Here’s Fran’s poem “How to Properly Fry an Egg” from her book Grandfather’s Mandolin.
When family yawns in the farmhouse, the rooster squawking cadenzas,
tiptoe downstairs, open the door — apple blossoms and manure wafting
through the air. On the walk past willowy cathedrals, gather peonies
for the kitchen, if only for petals that cobble the paths toward candles.
Quiet your footfalls when you near the barn. From safe darkness, the
birds will hear the sotto voce of whispers as you beckon the leghorn
celebrated for Olympian jumps or the girl named for a chatty niece.
Wandering through hay is the skinny hen who’s scarred and feisty.
She’s the one to follow with song: Sinatra, not Pavarotti. Or something
peppy, the Supremes: Stop in the name of love, of brief flight, of wings.
Of gifts received, eggs that speak without language. Ovals bedded in straw,
ungraded. Candled from a lifted palm until dawn’s headline — guns
and riot — is folded for another day, until what’s held reminds you of physics:
oscillation, shine, free falls of the unexpected. How the ordinary can spark
into Fabergés under quickening light. Place the chosen in the wire basket.
They’ll soon adorn the cast iron, settle into buttery chunks from the farmer
up the road, the cow you’ve milked. Focus. Breathe. Tap each egg. Conjure
heartbeat, radiance, rebirth. Alchemy as it enflames: albumin, yolk becoming
gold-crowned, white-ringed. Trust small bones in your wrist to twist the
spatula. Trust what’s easy and over, what’s flawed, forgive: lumps and tears,
riverings from mistakes. Count to ten. Let the eggs stop quivering. Assure
they’ll have company from the orchestration of hash browns, toast, home-
made cider. Coax the eggs onto Bramble Pink Wedgwood a great-aunt
bequeathed, platters supporting the eggs with their fine old china bones.
Fork in hand, offer grace for leafy garden greens, sun and rain, your farmer-
father, our birds who came to us unafraid, everyone young and alive.
Fran Markover’s poem “How to Fry an Egg.”
To buy Fran’s book Grandfather’s Mandolin, subscribe to, or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com.
You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, Audible, and a host of other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.