"Mountains" by Natasha Sajé + Affogato

Often the books stay open for days, face down, saved on a page that stuck with me, that I need to go back and review, that needs a recipe. I don't pick them up automatically. There are food magazines to peruse and dinner to be made, the dog to walk, the food system to keep up with, laundry to be done, graduation cards to send, and online shopping to be done, among other things. I know we all have our own noise. All good things mostly, but things that train us (for better or worse), to do several tasks at once instead of what poetry requires: to be fully present in the moment, reading the words on the page, letting them sink into your skin like crusty bread sopping up olive oil from the mouth of a bowl.

I didn't realize how much noise there was in my life until I started reading poetry again. Or maybe it's just the noise in my head. Because there was an idyllic period of my life when I read poetry every day, thought about it every day, and even wrote it almost every day. It was part of my breath then the way something like pilates, The Giving Table, and healthy cooking is now.

This is a poem about breathing through the noise. The speaker is completely inside of herself, recalling memories from a time in her life when she lived elsewhere, felt less loved. When she returns to the present, the same memory feels like a lifetime ago, but even amidst the comfortable "rituals of morning tea," she can't deny wishing for her life to be different somehow, even in a small way.


by Natasha Sajé

Before, when I lived in the mountains,
it was Switzerland, and winter, and I was twenty.
In the noon sun on terraces, people wore bathing suits,
and I brought them coffee and ice cream.
Some shushed down the slopes, edges cutting ice.
A few climbed and died, losing their footing
or swept under an avalanche of snow.
Each day I went to work and each night
I wept. No one I loved would know
if I died. It would take days for them to find me.

These Sierra mountains are smaller, browner,
striped with straggly pines, with columbine
and wild poppies tumbling from dry grass.
They cup me like a firefly in their hands.
When I go home, someone will be glad to see me,
and we will resume our rituals of morning tea,
of calling each other's names to come to bed;
in between we'll seldom speak. And if
I wish for our lives to be different,
I will inhale that wish like oxygen.

from Red Under the Skin

It's harder to live moment to moment than memory to memory, isn't it? The 20-year-old in Switzerland, alone, is tired of weeping. And decades older, when she's found what she cried out in the night for, there is still a piece of her soul longing for life to be different, just enough to feel that tinge of adventure again. I'm sure it's the story of many of our lives.

Vanilla ice cream is one of the pure things. No chocolate chunks, no peppermint extract, no crushed Snickers bars or ribbons of fruit puree. Just vanilla. The speaker also happened to bring skiers coffee and ice cream, presumably separately, but this is the glorious marriage of the two.

I believe that all desserts have a time and a place to be embraced. I adore warm fruit crumbles with buttery toppings, elegant lemon tarts, celebratory layer cakes, and a good old fashioned chocolate chip cookie. But in the spirit of quietness, affogato is the only thing to eat.


I used the vanilla ice cream recipe from David Lebovitz, which you can find on his website. Brew some espresso, pour, sit in the stillness and let it melt on your tongue.