Pita bread flavored with za’atar

za'atar flavored pita bread

za’atar flavored pita bread

I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night, and for some reason my mind wandered back to the time I met Seamus Heaney. I was twenty years old, a student at Oxford. He was reading our poems, and giving us advice. He said my poems reminded him of Basho, which was a very kind thing of him to say. (I used to write poems! I wanted to be a poet! I had sensibilities! I was moved by things most people didn’t even notice! We can all laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible.) I don’t write poetry very often any more, but I still read it from time to time, and I spent the better part of this morning reading the poems of Seamus Heaney. I’ve decided that he could be another of our Ordinary Poet Laureates. Consider this quote about him, “And his is the gift of saying something extraordinary while, line by line, conveying a sense that this is something an ordinary person might actually say.” His subject matter, too, is frequently ordinary people going about their daily activities. Like Robert Burns and William Carlos Williams he recognizes the grace and worth of each person, and of the work that they do. His poems seemed washed in the affectionate, melancholic light of memory, so that everything he touches quietly glows. We all cast mythical shadows in his poems, we’re all the gods and goddesses of our own creation. However humble our labors may seem, they become honorable in his words. And while he’s generously making our work worthy, he’s constantly questioning and reestablishing the value of his own work – the value of poetry and of art. “Heaney wants to think of poetry not only as something that intervenes in the world, redressing or correcting imbalances, but also as something that must be redressed—re-established, celebrated as itself.” Here’s a poem named for Heaney’s childhood home that describes the work of a woman in the kitchen, it’s a poem filled with love and grace and light, and with the poignance of passing time.


1. Sunlight

There was a sunlit absence.
The helmeted pump in the yard
heated its iron,
water honeyed

in the slung bucket
and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling
against the wall

of each long afternoon.
So, her hands scuffled
over the bakeboard,
the reddening stove

sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.

Now she dusts the board
with a goose’s wing,
now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails

and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the tick of two clocks.

And here is love
like a tinsmith’s scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.

I like making pita bread. It’s so simple and pleasurable, and so fun to eat when it’s done. I’ve always liked za’atar bread – middle-eastern flatbread crusted with za’atar spices, so I decided to bake some of them right into the dough of this pita bread. I used a red za’atar spice mix, and added thyme, but za’atar comes in many blends, so you could adjust it to suit your taste. These little breads were soft and puffy inside, so you could pull them apart and fill them with delicious things. The next day we toasted them, and they were lovely and crispy.

Here’s Heaney reading Mossbawn Sunlight

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