It’s petal-falling season in our town. On cherry-tree-lined streets the slightest of breezes will send delicate pink and white petals all around you in a soft warm tizzy. The petals from the cherry tree in our yard swirl into our open door, persistent, and end up somehow in every room, even in rooms we don’t use, like small worries or memories from a dream. Every year I think of the same thing: The Exile’s Letter by Ezra Pound (or by Li Po and translated from the Chinese by Ezra Pound). It’s foolish to have a favorite poem, of course, but this one has been in my head for years, indelibly, since I first read it. (I know Ezra Pound was a fascist, I understand that, and it does complicate my love for the poem). To be honest, though the whole poem is strange and beautiful, it’s the end that I really love:
And if you ask how I regret that parting? It is like the flowers falling at spring’s end, confused, whirled in a tangle. What is the use of talking! And there is no end of talking— There is no end of things in the heart. I call in the boy, Have him sit on his knees to write and seal this, And I send it a thousand miles, thinking.
The language and the imagery, though simple, are both so pretty, and the feeling is of such longing and regret. And I love the construction “And I send it a thousand miles, thinking.” I don’t know if there’s a name for it, but I think anything would be beautiful written like this. “I scrubbed the toilet, remembering.” or “I left for work, wondering.” Love it. But it’s this, it’s this: “What is the use of talking! And there is no end of talking—There is no end of things in the heart.” It kills me.
And as I was thinking about this poem, I remembered another poem that is similarly lodged in my brain for decades, I Know a Man, by Robert Creeley:
As I sd to my friend, because I am always talking,—John, I sd, which was not his name, the darkness sur- rounds us, what can we do against it, or else, shall we & why not, buy a goddamn big car, drive, he sd, for christ’s sake, look out where yr going.
Perfection. So much spoken in so few words.
And then there’s Diary of a Country Priest, the film by Robert Bresson. It’s foolish to have a favorite film, of course, but this one spoke to me as few films have. I’ve written about it before, so allow me to quote myself:
His solemnity and his honesty raise him above the petty bickering of his parishioners. He doesn’t bother to defend himself from their accusations, because his understanding is on a completely different level. When he realizes this he says, beautifully, “I’d discovered with something bordering on joy that I had nothing to say.” I love that. The film is full of unexpectedly beautiful statements like this. His “old master” an odd sort of priest who appears throughout the film, follows a stream of advice with the words, “And now, work. Do little things from day to day while you wait. Little things don’t seem like much, but they bring peace.”
And I wonder what it is about these poems and films that they’re with me all the time. Why am I so drawn to examinations of talking and not talking? I love to talk, I love to discuss, and banter, and disagree, and agree, and connect, and despair of never connecting, and learn, and share a joke, and share things I love–songs and movies and books, and learn about those things that somebody else loves. I talk too much, there’s no doubt about that, and talking is strangely addictive, once I start, it’s hard for me to stop. It’s been a strange year for a talker. Sometimes I feel like a fizzy bottle of pop that’s been unwisely shaken.
But I’m also profoundly fond of silence, and aware that all that is most important transcends words. In a world of constant noise and bickering and shouting for attention, it’s sometimes a joy to remember the weight of silence.
And I hit publish on the post, thinking.
Here’s Jordi Savall with one of my favorite wordless pieces of music. The chaconne from Antoine Forqueray’s Pieces de Viole.
I had the idea of making savory crepes, but of frying them with the filling right inside, rather than making the crepes and filling them after. I also made a yeasted batter, which makes the crepe a little more substantial, almost like a flatbread in some ways. These turned out really good. I made some with spinach and ricotta and shallots and garlic and herbs for David and myself, and one without spinach for Isaac, who has now decided he only likes it in saag paneer, for the time-being. You could really fill it with anything you like, though. I’d thought about roasted mushrooms and sharp cheddar, or you could do roasted peppers and feta and olives. Whatever strikes your fancy! The cheese helps to hold it together, but if you’re vegan you could substitute mushy legumes. And if you’re vegan leave out the egg and use warm water instead of milk.
1 t. yeast
1 t. sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup semolina flour
2 T olive oil
1 t. salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 cups warm water
Combine the yeast, milk, 1/2 cup warm water and sugar in a large bowl. Leave aside for about 10 minutes till it’s foamy.
Add the olive oil and egg and stir to combine. Add the flours, salt and black pepper. Whisk thoroughly. Add enough warm water to bring it all to a consistency of lightly whipped heavy cream. Whisk till it’s light and foamy.
Cover with a plate and leave in a warm place for a couple hours till it’s frothy and bubbly. Meanwhile, make the filling.
Spinach and ricotta
RICOTTA & MOZZARELLA & OLIVES
1 cup fresh ricotta
4 oz mozzarella, roughly chopped
about 1/4 cup mixed black & green olives, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
Combine everything in a medium-sized bowl and stir to combine.
1 T olive oil
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t fresh rosemary
pinch of fresh thyme
1 t red pepper flakes
4 cups packed baby spinach, chopped
In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the shallot and herbs, stir and fry for a couple minutes until the shallot turns deep gold. Add the garlic and stir and fry for another half a minute. Add the spinach and a few spoonfuls of water and sautée until tender and bright, about five minutes.
Combine the spinach with the ricotta mixture, season with salt and pepper and mix well.
When you’re ready to cook them…
Warm a spoonful of butter or olive oil in a large frying pan. When it starts to sizzle, add a scant 1/2 cup of batter, spreading it in circles with the back of a spoon or spatula to make it thinner. But you want it to be smaller than the pan for ease of flipping. The top should start to dry out, and lots of little holes will form. Add a big spoonful of batter on half of the crepe, and spread so it covers the entire half. Slip a spatula under the un-filling-covered half and fold it over the filling.
When the edges start to look a bit brown, carefully slide a spatula under and flip it over. Cook the other side for a few minutes.
Or fry them in butter on a non-stick skillet, like you’d make pancakes, flipping when they get brown on one side.
The soul needs solitude in order to hear its music.
Beautifully put and very true!
That was lovely – and the first poem is indeed Li Po. We also have to remember that Pound (and so many other sensitive and politically-engaged men and women at the time were stunned by the most stupid and lethal war that the “old order” managed to plunge into and the chaos of the democracies in its aftermath. We can’t have enough of the things you share, Par