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Friday, November 1, 2013

Number 326: Thomas Lux "Refrigerator, 1957"

Refrigerator, 1957

More like a vault -- you pull the handle out
and on the shelves: not a lot,
and what there is (a boiled potato
in a bag, a chicken carcass
under foil) looking dispirited,
drained, mugged. This is not
a place to go in hope or hunger.
But, just to the right of the middle
of the middle door shelf, on fire, a lit-from-within red,
heart red, sexual red, wet neon red,
shining red in their liquid, exotic,
aloof, slumming
in such company: a jar
of maraschino cherries. Three-quarters
full, fiery globes, like strippers
at a church social. Maraschino cherries, maraschino,
the only foreign word I knew. Not once
did I see these cherries employed: not
in a drink, nor on top
of a glob of ice cream,
or just pop one in your mouth. Not once.
The same jar there through an entire
childhood of dull dinners -- bald meat,
pocked peas and, see above,
boiled potatoes. Maybe
they came over from the old country,
family heirlooms, or were status symbols
bought with a piece of the first paycheck
from a sweatshop,
which beat the pig farm in Bohemia,
handed down from my grandparents
to my parents
to be someday mine,
then my child's?
They were beautiful
and, if I never ate one,
it was because I knew it might be missed
or because I knew it would not be replaced
and because you do not eat
that which rips your heart with joy.

- Thomas Lux

Hap Notes:

Before we talk about the poem, let's just luxuriate in the wonderful descriptions of maraschino cherries: "full, fiery globes, like strippers/at a church social" and "on fire, a lit-from-within red, heart red, sexual red, wet neon red, shining red in their liquid, exotic." Delicious words.

The "vault" like refrigerator (one is pictured to the right of the poem) had many different handles but they all had to pulled toward you to open and sometimes the vacuum pressure was tight, when the door opened it almost hissed. You couldn't surreptitiously open it, it made a noise.

Lux is talking about a time when most families did not have many convenience foods in the fridge, everything edible had to made from scratch so leftovers were sparse "dispirited" things wrapped in foil or waxed paper. You could open the fridge and look at it but there wasn't much appealing to eat in there– it needed work. Contrast this with the maraschino cherries, gorgeous in their red liquid, almost too elegant to eat. I recall that almost everybody had a jar of them, as if they were some sort of badge of better times. They weren't to be eaten, just had. The "vault's" treasure, so to speak.

Lux was born and raised in Massachusetts on a dairy farm and one assumes that his childhood meals (he would have been 11 years old in 1957) were similar to my Midwestern ones which consisted mostly of meat, potatoes, a sad soggy vegetable and plenty of bread and butter on the table. It was brothy, filling, and more than a bit bland. Contrast this to the neon beauty of those cherries.

My dad was a burgeoning alcoholic when I was a kid and we always had maraschino cherries for his nightly Manhattans. When he was at work, I made a point of sneaking the cherries since mostly he just used the liquid in the jars for the drink, the cherries being too sweet for his taste. My dad never complained about this that I recall, just bought new ones. Their shiny gorgeous color was just too hard to resist. They stood for something in my mind just as they do for the poet. What do you think he is talking about?

"Maraschino" is the word used to describe cherries that are made to be somewhat like the original marasca cherries preserved in Croatia for Maraschino liqueur ( so they could have actually been an heirloom in the poem). Preserved in alcohol, they were thought to be a luxury. The ones we get in jars are not preserved in alcohol (at least, not during and after prohibition) and are made with a sugar syrup made with oil of almonds. (Geeky sidebar: which is why the original Jergen's lotion (made with almond oil) my mom used always somehow smelled like cherries to me- the smell tasted a little like cherries if that makes any sense at all.)

In today's poem, think on what those cherries meant to the poet- don't forget the sensual, sexual side of it. A meal can have a bit of meaning on sensual/sexual level, too. And the stored beauty of those cherries means something, too. In a "vault." I always have maraschino cherries in my fridge just to see them (although, I occasionally do eat them- much to horror of most everyone I know who say they are "too sweet",  an expression that has no meaning to me.)

Why do you think the poet would not eat the cherries? Why do they "rip his heart with joy"?

There is so much more in this poem, it is as wonderful as that jar of cherries.

Lux is another favorite poet and we've talked about him (with bio and etc.) twice before: Here and Here, too.

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