Written by Hazel Burke

Arts

Could Be Verse

Fancy getting stuck into a sonnet or cosy with a canzone but no idea where to start? In her regular column, our poetry *doctor (*she’s not a real doctor) Hazel Burke walks you gently through some of her favourites. This week it’s all about friendship.

Emily Dickinson illustration by Louise Boulter.

Emily Dickinson illustration by Louise Boulter.

Soup Sister
by Rebecca Perry

And, of course,
it bothers me greatly that I can’t know
the quality of the light where you are.
How your each day pans out,
how the breeze lifts the dry leaves from the street
or how the street pulls away from the rain.

Last week I passed a tree
that was exactly you in tree form,
with a kind look and tiny sub-branches
like your delicate wrists.

Six years ago we were lying
in a dark front room on perpendicular sofas,
so hungover that our skin hurt to touch.
How did we always manage
to be heartbroken at the same time?

I could chop, de-seed and roast
a butternut squash for dinner
in the time it took you to shower.

Steam curtained the windows, whiting out
the rain, which hit the house sideways.
One of us, though I forget who, said
do you think women are treated like bowls
waiting to be filled with soup?
And the other one said, of course.

Now the world is too big,
and it’s sinking and rising
and stretching out its back bones.

The rivers are too wild,
the mountains are so so old
and it’s all laid out arrogantly between us.

My friend, how long do you stand
staring at the socks in your drawer
lined up neat as buns in a bakery,
losing track of time and your place in the world,
in the (custardy light of a) morning?

This is a love poem with a difference: it is written to a faraway friend. One year and 51 weeks ago a very good friend of mine moved back to Australia. Although, of course, I knew it was the other side of the world, I had no idea quite how far that would feel ‘til she went. I missed her, hard, and it brought home to me how much of the love in my life was wrapped up in my friendships.

Poems about romantic/sexual/whatever-floats-your-boat partners, or poems about family (especially parents and children) are easy to find. Given how important friends can be, there aren’t half as many poems about them. So Soup Sister is a bit special. (In fact, Rebecca Perry’s book Beauty/Beauty has a strong theme of friends and friendship running through it, from faraway friends, friends at school and even the death of an imaginary friend.)

“The friendship is as tender and sweet as the butternut squash Perry roasts for tea. You can feel the warmth and steam inside the house where the friends are cocooned from the pelting rain, eating soup together.”

Soup Sister is part of a conversation with Perry’s absent friend. By starting mid-sentence, “And, of course”, Perry gives the impression that the start of the poem is really just us tuning in to her side of an ongoing conversation. This is a friendship that doesn’t need an introduction or an explanation.

We’ve all seen people we know in other humans, but I particularly like that Perry sees her friend in trees, too: “Last week I passed a tree / that was exactly you in tree form”. This is a deft way of painting a picture of her friend at the same time as saying something about Perry and the friendship between the two. (I’d say it’s fairly unusual to mention in passing that you’ve seen a kind-looking tree who is the dead spit of your mate – or is this just me? Anyway, I love it.) What we know about Perry’s ‘soup sister’ from the poem is created through little flashes: the ‘kind look’ and ‘delicate wrists’, the long showers, the neatly folded socks.

The friendship is as tender and sweet as the butternut squash Perry roasts for tea. You can feel the warmth and steam inside the house where the friends are cocooned from the pelting rain, eating soup together. Heartbreak and mammoth hangovers aside, it’s a touching portrait of domestic bliss.

At this point in the poem, Perry breaks the homely mood: “Now the world is too big, / and it’s sinking and rising/ and stretching out its back bones.” The friends are separated by the body of the world, which is ‘too big’, ‘too wild’ and separating them ‘arrogantly’.

The other arrogance in the poem is the assumption, pointed out by Perry or her friend: “One of us, though I forget who, said / do you think women are treated like bowls / waiting to be filled with soup? / And the other one said, of course.

I like that the women in the poem are not bowls, but the people who make and share the soup. You can read this as a classic feminist bowl/vagina metaphor (Ladies, it’s always good to be clear what soup you want in your bowl, and to remember that filling your own bowl with soup is always an option). I also take away the fact that making a good soup is a valuable life skill and that cooking for friends doesn’t have to be fancy. All very useful points to consider.

In fact, there is perhaps little in life that warms and nourishes the heart and body than sharing soup with a friend. If ‘soup sister’ is the female equivalent of a blood brother, then it sounds a heck of a lot nicer and it’s too good a name not to nick. From now on, all my close, close friends are ‘soup sisters’.

Rebecca Perry, Beauty/Beauty (Bloodaxe Books, 2015), www.bloodaxebooks.com
Find out more about Rebecca Perry on her website www.poorsasquatch.com or follow her on Twitter: @poorsasquatch

Read all of Hazel’s previous poetry columns here.

@oxpecking

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Written by Hazel Burke

Hazel likes seed catalogues, maps and toast. She lives in Manchester. @oxpecking