Columns

2006.02.15 The moldy poetry of my refrigerator

on . Posted in Midnight Musings

By COLLEEN LEDDY

Our house was glutted with poetry books this past weekend as Maddie finished up a project for her English class. She had to choose a person to dedicate the project to, find 10 poems, explain their meaning, tell how the poems relate to the person and then illustrate each poem. Maddie combed through David’s old poetry books and poetry books from the library, and searched the internet to come up with the poems.

 Just a few weeks ago I wrote about my rocky relationship with poetry, but here I am now, cracking open a poetry book or two. I think I’m beginning to see how poetry touches lives by expressing thoughts and ideas in a different way, kind of like how songs can move you with their combination of lyrics and music. It’s a richer experience when an observation is expressed in poetic terms rather than merely told in a straightforward manner. Consider this poem from Jack Prelutsky’s “It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles” which struck a chord with me.


Deep in our refrigerator


Deep in our refrigerator,

there’s a special place

for food that’s been around awhile...

we keep it, just in case.

“It’s probably too old to eat,”

my mother likes to say.

“But I don’t think it’s old enough

for me to throw away.”


It stays there for a month or more

to ripen in the cold,

and soon we notice fuzzy clumps

of multicolored mold.

The clumps are larger every day,

we notice this as well,

but mostly what we notice

is a certain special smell.


When finally it all becomes

a nasty mass of slime,

my mother takes it out, and says,

“Apparently, it’s time.”

She dumps it in the garbage can.

though not without regret,

then fills that space with other food

that’s not so ancient yet.


Sure, this is a lot longer than the more direct way to tell the story: I keep old food in my fridge and it stinks. But, the poetic version of this character flaw is a lot funnier and more picturesque. It captures the relationship between people and their food, how hard it is to be wasteful until the food is beyond both recognition and the point of no return—all you can do is throw it away.

Regarding questionable food in the fridge, I grew up on the adage: when in doubt, throw it out. But through most of our marriage, my husband has had an iron stomach. Even today when I am ready to pitch a bagel showing signs of mold, he’ll say, “Just pinch off the white spots and it will be fine.”

Not this woman. I don’t care if penicillin is a derivative of mold and mold can be a good thing. In my mind, the presence of mold on any bread product is not the natural state of bread and it’s not going down my hatch.

David’s ability to eat foods in varying states of decay is partly why I don’t immediately throw away questionable items: he might eat them. This is the man who spent a year in Maine working in a hippie schoolhouse for peanuts, so he economized by eating the remains of student lunches. Ah, to be young again. But I was young once and I never would have entertained the notion of eating anybody’s wasted food.

David has a heightened sense of frugality when it comes to food. It’s like the worst version of gluttony, wasting food. Having so much and then tossing it really disgusts him. Me, I just feel guilt and shame. It’s a wonder I ever even open my refrigerator door. It’s like opening a window to the chaos of my brain: quashed hope, despair, denial, guilt, regret, confusion, clutter, procrastination.

That hard to reach jug of turkey broth I never made into soup, the expensive cheese begging to be eaten but rough around the edges, the old couscous I can’t bear to toss because I know when I open the lid I will gag.

And then there’s the jumble of stuff. The jam jars hobnobbing with the dairy, the cornmeal commingling with the tofu. The tofu tossed among the celery and apples which should be in their vegetable and fruit drawers, respectively. The drawers are overflowing, but amazingly, today at least, not with rotting fruit or leaky blackened lettuce leaves oozing out their bag.

Deep in my refrigerator, deep in my psyche—I’ve got some work to do.

– February 15, 2006

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