As noted here, I have a thing for butter and sadly, we’re not talking toast. I tell you, sometimes I pop butter directly with brown sugar and my mouth thinks why bother baking? It’s all here.
Back in bakery years, working all day near 64-pound butter blocks was torture, a special brand of wafting, yellow, room-temp torture. Good thing we had spreaders and baguettes, which lavishly eased the pain. Outside pesky cholesterol, there’s only one butter problem I see: it does not like you taking its picture. Yes – I know most people don’t casually pose the butter, but I’ve had reason to more than once, and every time a wash. Butter swirls through the kitchen and dominates the tongue, but snap a photo and it goes pale, improbably dull. Does it think we’ll steal its soul? How can a robust bar of fat be such a wallflower in the lens?
My most successful butter shot was a fluke. Messing around one day with the cheese planer, it landed on a chunk of Plugra, and this is what I got. Perhaps that’s a butter-photography secret: just ask it to stand up straight.
Last week for my birthday, dear pal Lora Kolodny, whip-smart business reporter (and New York Times blogger) sent me wishes along with a poem, a work I’d never seen and one she clearly knew I’d love, a poem called Butter. I was delighted; I’ve always loved poetry, for the way it kisses language, for the chance it gives the heart, and for its ability to illustrate the familiar in a different shaft of light. Here on the page, with no props or toast, wonderful poet Connie Wanek brings the spread into view. With Ms. Wanek’s kind permission, we can finally look at butter in the proper light.
by Connie Wanek, 2000
Butter, like love,
seems common enough
yet has so many imitators.
I held a brick of it, heavy and cool,
and glimpsed what seemed like skin
beneath a corner of its wrap;
the decolletage revealed
a most attractive fat!
And most refined.
Not milk, not cream,
not even creme de la creme.
It was a delicacy which assured me
that bliss follows agitation,
that even pasture daisies
through the alchemy of four stomachs
may grace a king’s table.
We have a yellow bowl near the toaster
where summer’s butter grows
soft and sentimental.
We love it better for its weeping,
its nostalgia for buckets and churns
and deep stone wells,
for the press of a wooden butter mold
shaped like a swollen heart.
Connie Wanek has been writing poems since childhood. She is the author of two books, with a third forthcoming, and she has been the recipient of several awards, including the Willow Poetry Prize and the Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. Most recently, she was named a Witter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress by United States Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. She lives in the country outside Duluth, Minnesota, but often finds herself in a green tent somewhere in the Boundary Waters wilderness.