Here we are at the day before Ash Wednesday. Do you know this day as Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday? Or does it register at all?
Many of our Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday traditions come out of the need to use up the excess. In medieval times, most Christians would give up all sorts of luxury items for Lent, luxury items like milk, eggs, and alcohol. So just before Lent came the using up of the luxury items--because you wouldn't just throw them away. Hence the special Mardi Gras breads and Shrove Tuesday pancakes, and the drinking.
Once, in 2002 or 2001, I made myself pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, but it wasn't the same, eating them in my chilly kitchen, all by myself. But from that experience has come at least one poem. I remember some failed attempts through the years before I wrote a poem that I felt really good about.
In 2014, I wrote a poem, "Shrove Tuesday Solitudes." I dug out my poetry notebook this morning because I wanted to see when I wrote it, and I was struck by how the poem emerged. I thought I would begin one way, but after several stanzas, I wrote what would become the first stanza:
"On this day before Lent begins, I had planned
to dig your ashes
into the ground where you can nourish
the hydrangea bushes. Will you turn
the flowers deep purple?"
The poem then winds its way through jewelry repair and bread baking:
"I poke the prizes
into the Mardi Gras dough:
a clove, a bean, a scrap of cloth.
No china baby Jesus;
we will not have that kind of luck."
In the past, I've made special bread; if you have time, this blog post will walk you through the process. When I first started writing my Shrove Tuesday poems, I didn't have the cookbook (Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Holiday Baking Book) which gave me the recipe and the background of the bread.
The poem concludes this way:
"You have gone ahead—will you prepare
a place for us? I dream
of a day when you drape
baubles around my neck again
and greet me with a feast
made of all the luxuries
we need not reject
when we achieve the final resurrection."
I won't paste the whole thing here, because I want to get it published, if possible, and many journals still consider a blog to be publication.
As I'm writing, I'm baking bread. Well, it's not baking yet, but it's rising. It feels good to put the dough together. It feels good to make a week day special.
My friend went to see Patch Adams the other day--he counseled to be sure to do at least one thing each day that brings you joy. Baking brings her joy, so she's doing more of it. On Sunday, before our quilt group, we baked together. We used to bake and quilt weekly, but our lives don't allow that anymore. In some ways, it's that much more special when we bake together now.
Of course, in some ways, it's more lonely when we bake in our separate kitchens--very similar to my Shrove Tuesday blues.
It's an interesting thing to ponder, in this time of mid-life, how many of our joys are tinged with sadness as we compare them to the past times or think about people no longer present.
Ah, the wisdom of the Buddhist, who would encourage us to focus on the present moment, not to let the present joys be tinged by sadness. I'm guessing that learning process will be one that I will need to attend to for the rest of my days.