"A Roman Garden" by Karl Kirchwey + Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Lemon

When you dream up a Roman garden, you might imagine one bathed in sunlight, just before dusk, fragrant with the pollen of spring flowers. Bees hum along as you walk along the pathways, pausing to gaze at a statue or two before sitting on a nearby bench. This is not the garden we meet in Karl Kirchwey's poem. His is a garden of darkness and midnights. A garden you visit in your restless dreams, not to pass an hour before stopping for dinner at a nearby trattoria.

A Roman Garden

By Karl Kirchwey

Last night I dreamed again I was his son
(searching always for fathers, orphan of sleep),
then woke to hear hooded crows in the rain
whose raucous cried reverberated deep
within the garden and its citrus grove
laden with chill and pebble-rinded fruit.
He who is not my father does not move,
but waits; far from here, he could speak, but does not.
Some lamps to light the dark of where he is:
my hand reached out. But then the eyeless bald
ivory skull and gleaming nightmare feathers
mocked me. I could bring nothing to the world.
The crows flew off beyond my furthest thought,
as citrus cast its heavy perfumed light.

from The Atlantic, December 2012

This poem haunted me for days before I could put pen to paper. The speaker is wrestling with a question, an endless search for something he knows he may never discover, and his deep-rooted fears arrive in the middle of the night when he can no longer sleep. Some of us might saunter to the kitchen for a scoop of ice cream, but our speaker heads outside, among "hooded crows in the rain." When the speaker says "some lamps light the dark of where heis," we don't know if its a statue (the "bald ivory skull) or the lost father he searches for, and I don't think we're supposed to. That's what dreams do to us. They are often blurry and strange. Statues look like men. Dreams unearth memories, conjure emotions we aim to suppress, and juxtapose them with imagery like crows and citrus trees, just to confuse us all the more.

Despite the hazey dream-like experience of reading this poem, citrus emerges as a raft of sorts, guiding the speaker through the garden. By the last couplet, dawn has arrived, and "citrus cast its heavy perfumed light," perhaps as a final peace offering to the speaker who is finally emerging from this dream and looking for a glimpse of hope to pull him out of the depths.


Recipe adapted from Kim Boyce, Good to the Grain

This isn't a poem about the lightness of lemons, but their heaviness, and needed a recipe that was rooted like the statue the speaker mistakes for a human being. Rosemary serves this purpose well, for it dances around the lemon zest and speckled spelt flour, playing tricks on your taste buds.

The morning I made this cake, I was out of every sugar except date sugar, so into the bowl it went. Date sugar is less sweet than brown or cane sugar, and doesn't melt the same way. I've experimented with it in a variety of baked goods, and enjoy its subtle sweetness. Kim Boyce's recipe is a wonderful starting point for a whole grain olive oil cake.

Dry Ingredients
3/4 cup spelt flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups date sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Wet Ingredients
3 eggs
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and brush a 9-inch fluted tart pan with olive oil. Sift the dry ingredients into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the oil, milk, rosemary, and lemon. Using a wooden spoon, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, gently mixing until just combined. Pour the batter into the pan and spread it evenly.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.