Cooking with Ella; We Look to Trees; Telling the Books

Cooking with Ella
She cooks to Ella’s soaring, playful voice.
The bright, three-minute songs have changed and lifted
her mood. The speakers rattle the kitchen cabinets.
She whisks the eggs to “Paper Moon.” She measures
a snowy cup of flour while the singer drops
a yellow basket. “Sweet Georgia Brown” is crammed
in a thrown pinch of salt. When the singer scats,
the chef delights and hums, all language flung
away like scraps in garbage bags. Who needs
mere words when voice becomes another horn
with swells and climbs and trills and tightrope walks,
taking a solo to peaks so few have scaled?
She slaps an unseen bass. Her slippers tap.
Her apron flutters like a red stage curtain.
She dips her spoon in all that stews and sizzles
between the notes and works into a sauce.
A savory aroma twirls and spins
with “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” It’s a wonder a wineglass
doesn’t shatter from the high notes ringing out.
And “Lady Be Good” transforms into a mantra
for the artistry inspiring her cuisine,
the subtle layerings of spice and tang,
balsamic glazes, reductions, splashes of wine.
She wields her blade, is dicing vegetables
to Ella’s comic “Mack the Knife” with all
its spontaneity and laughs, the Satchmo
impersonations cutting through the steam
when the words get flubbed. No onion tears
will dampen this frivolity, this sound
of a big band crammed in the back of a house.
Her metal spoons lay drumrolls on the pans
like a high-hat ending the show with a flurry.
The two have cooked up monumental joy
again—as they did in ’91 when this cook
saw Ella at Radio City and, at a quiet pause
between two songs, screamed out “We love you, Ella,”
and the singer laughed, replying “I love you, too,
sweetie,” and the whole place cheered for the two of them
united in love across the crowd like a chef
communing with a vocal customer
who shouts out praise each quiet patron feels.
The spigot roars applause. Her apron falls
in a steaming room I doubt will ever cool.
Look to Trees

Connections transmit signals from one tree to the next,
helping the trees exchange news about insects, drought,
and other dangers.
—Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees

We look to trees when we are lost.
They grow their compasses on bark,
Rustle at storms when skies grow dark,
And count with rings each age they’ve crossed.

We look to trees when we are lost.
A deadly virus spans the world,
Yet roots converse, with blooms unfurled
For spring—all deaf to human cost.

We look to trees when we are lost.
As eyes revisit limbs with birds,
We’re locked inside with unsaid words—
And fear from Lent to Pentecost.
Telling the Books

for John Ridland, poet and teacher


Bees were considered members of the family; if a beekeeper died, a black ribbon was attached to his hives, an ancient custom known as “telling the bees.”
—William Longgood, The Queen Must Die and Other Affairs of Bees and Men

Mourners would “tell the bees” and drape the hive
When a beekeeper died.
The news ensured the insects stayed alive
And honey flowed inside.

Who told his books? In sly self-portraiture,
The colored spines in crates
Depict his buzzing mind and eye the door,
His name on their bookplates.

He’d read for hours and let the lamplight rouse
Each poet’s lyric throat.
No loneliness when, night by night, he’d browse
The lasting lines they wrote.

May his books swarm again when selected
To join another’s tomes,
And his own sweet lines be resurrected
From hidden honeycombs.