|Publisher:||Feminist Press at CUNY, The|
|Product dimensions:||6.38(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.23(d)|
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The Milk of AlmondsItalian American Women Writers on Food and Culture
The Feminist PressCopyright © 2002 Louise DeSalvo and Edvige Giunta
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRose and Pink and Round
The day is warm and beautiful. The day is also night-it is summer, I am putting the baby to bed 8 P.M., still light outside. The house is quiet. The world's spinning slowed up somehow, so that now it seems as if it is nearly perceptible. One can feel it-the rotation of things: planets, crops. Milky orb and globe and world. Lobe. Engorged. The hum and song of the nursery. The world is pink and round. In this delirium of hormones, dizzied, depleted, I turn. The chair's slow swivel. Bathed in an extraordinary glow. Outside boisterous life goes on: neighbor's children putting wood in a truck. Children fishing in the pond. At the window considerable birdsong still, the whole sky now pink as the sun begins to fall and darkness comes on. Universe of pure health and option. This irrefutable feeling of being at the center of one's life-with all the serenity and awe that comes with that recognition. This slow-moving liquid I am filled with. How to describe the feeling? The dream of these days-how unable to lift myself from it-this feeling of impossible fullness. Every motion, every thought and sentence is milk-inflected.
I pass her a perfect sphere of peace, health, well-being. Immortal life-nothing,nothing shall ever perish ...
This mythic elixir-so elemental, so essential. At the center of our living: a fountain. The very essence of how we live-since we have arrived, since we have been asked to enter this pact: curve of world-earth-bound, earth-linked, the love we pass. I am drinking the stars, the little monk said upon his chance invention of champagne. I look at her drunken, pleasured face. That magic potion, her satiated face-a heady brew. With her small hand she pats my breast three times and she is at home.
And when the bough breaks? From time to time odd intimations enter this meditative space. Children walking an odd zig zag. The sound of a woman weeping. The liquid gaze of the cat. The baby's backward peddling in air. How utterly dizzied one feels, and opened up, and vulnerable. Filled up like this with milk. My heart bursting. My heart and body aching.
And I pass her perfect nutrition, immunization, long life, intelligence. One part dream, one part sacrifice, one part future, one part mystery, one part salvation.
Things that must have been inscribed in the cellular memory returning now: my mother coming into a room, and then leaving, and the way she brought light with her when she came and then took the light away. World dimming ...
A beautiful, sad lullaby, sung in Sicilian. Unstoppable emotion. This feeling of nothing being held or holding back. The dam does break, the river overflows its banks-how can I describe this season of rain-plenitude-this fluid world where I am small like she is, and then a child, and then dead. And then alive again, at the center of my life.
The baby cries in the dark. Reaches for the milk she smells in sleep. Makes that little tonguing motion:
A cistern in France overflows.
My mother's hair escapes the pins.
A woman's eyes brim over as we move again tonight through that incomprehensibly sorrowful city of water.
A flood of memory-from the time before my birth. I feel overcome. A song played on a flute made of bone. A harp made of human hair. Animals gaze out of the ark.
In the elongation-day merging with night-where time and desire are dismantled, I carry a star, a cup, to her-the best part of me. Vessel for one instant of perfection. Rosebud lips of the child. Clear eyes of the child, as she nurses moving back and forth, back and forth, as if she were reading.
She sucks the world into focus-becomes so entranced by what she sees that for a moment she stops sucking, and the world blurs back again. I look at the place she is looking so intently. I think of what I see, and what I cannot see at all.
For those of us brought up on bottles, who never once tasted that charmed potion, there is a little moment for mourning now. The clear, the calm. In this space by the window the light gone to rose. The thing we cannot do without and have, already for so long. My own infancy comes back-and the woman I have become-the kind of peace that has eluded me-that missing fragment of living in me.
My grandmother singing a Sicilian lullaby-the sorrow and beauty and bitterness of the world gray-gives way to five children sleeping who once more, as they have done for all time, redefine the world, change the world with their dreaming. The child cries. Reaches out in the night.
And we pass the enzyme of sleep back and forth to one another. Dream. Deepest of privileges. Grace notes. 3 A.M. The chirping and burbling and tinkling things-the little toys and rattles and singing stars are now at rest. Only Rose and I awake. Now and then the sound of the cat's paws. Outside the whiteness of moon, and milk, and (winter arrives) snow.
Sometimes, delirious, a little saintly feeling comes-depletions-exhaustion, as if one were offering one's very soul. Heart's fire, devotion. This miraculous fluid. A squirt in a wound would heal-AIDS patients open their mouths to it like baby birds. The desire to live. Wish.
One feels marked by milk as if by visitation or vision. As the forest is marked by flame, or the forehead by ash, as each and every word I write is carved, engraved by ghosts.
Sometimes a vacant feeling comes-it stays at times a little longer than you'd like. Drunk up, emptied-you've lost again your train of thought-your ability to think precisely-what by now you begin to take as normal-the blur ...
Flood of milk when the baby cries. My life is pure sensation. Rush and sound in my whole being it seems.
Mama, mammalian, mommy, mammary, the heart of the language world-the small mouth reaches for the breast, says Mama, Mommy, and minna minna minna, and begins to drink. Rose at one year old. The time I had imagined I would end this back and forth, this extraordinary cult of milk. But she is clearly not done. What to do? I think of all in this world that is arbitrary, senseless, cruel, stupid-and do not wish to be a part of it. I wonder why, since I have the luxury of the choice, would I for no reason take away something such as this? The world will begin its own inevitable subtractions soon enough. And so we go on.
Designed with utmost subtlety, there are enzymes to speed the digestion of the lipids, lactose, and proteins. I have decided to do a little reading. A complexly designed, ever-changing milk.
A truly living fluid in which antibodies and cells move about. The cells in mother's milk not only attack bacteria that could be harmful to the baby, but have the ability to produce antibodies that destroy bacteria and viruses as well. In the case of many viral diseases the baby brings the virus to the mother and the mother's gut-wall cells manufacture specific antibodies that travel to the mammary glands and back to the baby.
To protect directly from disease. I close my eyes. My body in front of the black car streaming.
Heightened, photographic flash before my vision field: the child inside the pure center of protection, a circle of always and forever.
This flexible fluid-the balance of nutrients adjusting according to the infant's needs-and continuing to evolve as the child grows. During a single feeding the concentration of milk even changes between early feeding and late feeding. Theories as to why suggest that the beauty of the design, the ability to shift, to change shape, to accommodate, is naturally inherent to the female body.
In a study in Bangladesh, breastfeeding was a protective factor for night blindness among preschool-aged children. In a study in Finland, in a study in....
Breast milk provides softer curds in the infant's stomach than cow's milk and is more quickly assimilated into the system. While it contains less protein than does cow's milk, virtually all the protein is available to the baby. Half the protein in cow's milk passes through the baby's body as waste.
Researchers many years ago wrongly concluded that breast milk did not have vitamin D-but it was discovered that a liquid soluble D, formerly undetected and unique to breast milk, was present and completely met the infant's needs.
Iron and zinc are better absorbed by breastfed babies.
Breast milk lowers the risk of developing asthma, protects against diarrhea infections, bacterial meningitis, respiratory infections, childhood lymphoma and leukemia, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Hodgkin's disease, vision defects, and it goes on like this ...
Breast milk is free. Breast milk is always the right temperature. It acts like a natural tranquilizer for the baby. The terrible twos do not arrive for breast-fed babies. And for the mother? Have I mentioned? The sleep inducing qualities of breast milk ... as I drift off again. In this cloud of endorphins.
It tastes sweet and light. Mother's milk is designed to build brains. It contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes, immunoglobulins, and compounds with unique structures that cannot be replicated. Its exact chemical makeup, still unknown.
Not to mention optimum hand-eye coordination, not to mention never spitting up, and it goes on and on: When the world was round and pink and she could drink everything she would ever need from it. Or so it seemed. And I could give something more precious and more valuable than I ever had before, or would again. And the way the gift passed back and forth so effortlessly with such ease and grace. And the person it made the one who did the giving. The gift that will last long after I am dead, the gift that might be passed to another baby-and from that baby to another baby ... Someone had said to me that I when pregnant carried the life material for my own grandchildren-a girl baby whose eggs develop while she is still inside me. A tenuous thread, this fragile pearl string, a few drops-a connection with those who will come after-this trace of eternity. Sitting here barely moving, unable to lift my head from hers, I feel jettisoned into the future-the strangest of sensations.
And I feel more valuable and more precious than ever before, because I in all my ordinariness, and without any special effort, produced something this astonishing, this ideal-and the inevitable-that one day it would be over and I would have to give it up-and would once more become ordinary. No matter what else I did, or where else I went, I would never give something this whole, and wholly good again-it's a humbling thing-I feel humble in its presence-and in the dissolve.
She has made up little Mommy's Milk songs which we sing to the trance, the figment-butterflies as they flee. My daughter Rose, two years old rhapsodic:
"Mommy's milk in the yogurt, in the hat, in the trees, in the sky," a world shaped, defined by the places Mommy's milk touches in her mind-something so elemental like language.
"Mommy's milk in the meat sauce. In the pears. In the oatmeal. In the Cheerios, in the clouds, in the sky. In the blue eyes," she squeals. In all she sees and all that sees her.
"Matisse paints Mommy's nipples!" she says astonished ...
"Mommy's milk is on Mommy's nipple. And butterflies," she says. "Butterflies?" She nods and pats my breast. "It's very pink. It's very beautiful. It's creamy. It goes round and round." And she makes circles in the air with her little hands.
The pink circles she describes begin to insinuate themselves behind my eyes. In all I see, circles now overflow, warm, radiating, aureole, the world is pure sensation, pure shape and pressure and trembling. These circles, a place of focus, brief moments of calm in the maelstrom. Still, it was not the duration that mattered, but the depth of the feeling, and because of the depth, an enduring quality came. I shall keep it with me forever. How everything in me has moved to gentleness, has conspired toward mildness. I can scarcely believe.
"Mommy's milk is sleepy, it grows and grows."
Other moments of serenity return: rising from a lover's bed and walking the unfamiliar streets alone, 6 A.M., day-the white page as it slowly gave way.
Rose, nearly three, nursing, looks up and in the hollow of my neck reaching says blue, she sees a blue, what Rose, she says, "ghost." "No butterflies" I say. "No, Ghost," she says. Emphatic.
Green gray blue of the hills out my window, gone to mauve to pink to pearl white and gray, then back to blue rose, the baby suckling. The gradual ending of this time as it comes on now.
Rose's lilting "Mommy's milk" can be heard more and more throughout the day, half reminiscence, half pure desire, still. Pale blue ghost of those last precious afternoons, when all was safe and warm and giving way to rose to pink, it goes round and round.
Now in the last moments of the miracle, as the milk begins to diminish, feedings only at night, as she begins to detect my necessary defection-all the things of this world-retreat. No. "It is pouring down," she says. Yes I see. "No, it is raining Mommy's milk on our heads. It is raining so hard." Enveloping everything now. The world, it grows and grows, it goes round and round. "Look." And I am holding life inside me. And she is holding life in her mouth. "Mommy's milk in the clouds," she reaches up to the sky, "Mommy's milk in the trees. Mommy's milk in the stars." It is pouring down on us, everywhere.
15 June 2001
* * *
Mary Bucci Bush
They named the baby Peaches because it was so sweet. The baby was the size of a loaf of bread. It was plump and brown like a meatloaf. Its skin was soft as a perfect flan. Its cheeks were red as apples. Sweet strawberry tart, the father said, nibbling the baby's ears. My little potato dumpling, the mother said. She's so tiny, like a muffin, said the father. Oh, peanut, mother said. My little lemon drop, said daddy. Pumpkin pie. We could eat you right up, mommy said, placing the baby's toes in her mouth. The baby squirmed, its foot fell out of its mother's mouth. I'm going to gobble you up, daddy said. He grinned and widened his eyes as he moved his big head close to baby's face. The baby began to whimper. See what you've done now? the mother said. Don't cry, my little butterball, daddy said, sticking the baby's fingers in his mouth. Mmm, that tastes good. He smacked his lips. The baby kicked the air with its fat legs. Its arms flailed above its face. Look at the way her belly jiggles when she cries, daddy said. Bowl full of jelly, he said. You're making her cry, mommy said, lifting the baby from its blanket. Don't you listen to him, she told the baby. You're my cinnamon bun, aren't you? All mine. She buried her face in the baby's stomach. She blew air against the stomach, so that her lips vibrated and made a sound like a food blender. The baby's eyes rolled. Its head lolled from side to side. She likes that, daddy said. The mother lowered the baby into the crook of her arm, then bent her head and nibbled at the baby's stomach. I'm going to eat you! she said. The baby's hands opened and closed. Its dark eyes floated from one face to the other. Look there, daddy said, pointing to the kitchen counter. Your roasting pan. He laughed. Put her in the pan. I'm not going to put her in the pan, the mother said. Just for a minute, he told her. I don't think so, the mother said. I'll get my camera, he said. He opened a drawer and took out his camera. This will make a great picture, he said. Don't get too close to the stove, she told him. It's hot. I'm preheating it for dinner. Do we have any celery? he asked. He took the baby from her arms. Her blanket, he said. She needs her blanket underneath her. Mother placed the blanket in the roasting pan. Like that? she said. Daddy propped the baby in the pan. It stared up at them wide-eyed, its mouth round and red like a cherry. They laughed at the sight of her. Where's that celery? the father said.
Excerpted from The Milk of Almonds Copyright © 2002 by Louise DeSalvo and Edvige Giunta
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
|Rose and Pink and Round||17|
|Mother Hunger and Her Seatbelt||24|
|Beer. Milk. The Dog. My Old Man||27|
|Smoke and Fire||38|
|Sacred Hearts and Tar||45|
|My Children's Names||64|
|The Seven Sacraments||67|
|Kissing the Bread||76|
|The Anthology Poems||81|
|The Prodigal Daughter||82|
|The Giara of Memory||84|
|Go to Hell||95|
|We Begin with Food||102|
|Breakfast in My Seventeenth Year||104|
|Bone, Veins, and Fat||105|
|The Origins of Milk||121|
|Other People's Food||135|
|What I Ate Where||143|
|My Grandmother, a Chicken, and Death||148|
|"No Thank You, I Don't Care for Artichokes"||150|
|If You Were a Boy||152|
|Tridicinu and 'Mmaculata||153|
|She's doing the dishes||158|
|Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner||160|
|I Can Be Bread||167|
|Lovers and other dead animals||175|
|Let Them Eat Cake||176|
|Dealing with Broccoli Rabe||205|
|Ravioli, Artichokes, and Figs||216|
|Seventeenth Street: Paterson, New Jersey||222|
|Passing It On||222|
|You Were Always Escaping||223|
|Moving In and Moving Up||237|
|The Lives of the Saints||249|
|After We Bury Her||252|
|Ma, Who Told Me You Forgot How to Cry||252|
|The Day Anna Stopped Making A-Beetz||254|
|My Mother's Career at Skip's Luncheonette||258|
|The Exegesis of Eating||261|
|New Year's Eve||275|
|What They'll Say in a Thousand Years||285|
|Lament in Good Weather||299|
|Picking Apricots with Zia Antonia||300|
|Keep the Wheat and Let the Chaff Lie||308|
|The Northside at Seven||310|
|How to Sing to a Dago||320|
|The Post-Rapture Diner||321|
|Cutting the Bread||322|
|About the Contributors||333|