On the drive to school this morning, I heard a story on NPR about a recipe for chicken that’s made in the South and is known to be “a punishment and a joy at the same time.” I had to pull out my notebook and write those words down because I knew that anything considered a punishment and a joy had to have a good story to it. Plus, the woman who said those words was Southern, and Southerners, God bless ’em, they know how to tell a story. I’ve never met someone from the South who can’t deliver the you-know-what out of a line.
The story goes that this recipe that calls for loads of cayenne, hot sauce, vinegar, pickle juice and whatever else to make a thick red sauce you slather on the chicken, originated out of a wife’s frustration over her philandering husband. The recipe’s so spicy sweat pops from your forehead and I think your throat’s at risk for closing up shop. Turns out, the cheater loved it, and the recipe, which I think is over 60 years old, took off. I don’t know if he stuck around, and stopped being a donkey. All I know is the punishment was equally brutal and wonderful.
“It’s a craving worse than anything,” one gentleman drawled.
I wish I knew what happened with that woman and her butthead husband. Did the spicy deliciousness bring him to his knees so that he apologized and never said, “I”ll be home late tonight,” again? Did she break off a chicken leg and hit him on the head with it then say, “This is the last meal you’ll ever have in this house I hope you die a little every time you’re eating McDonald’s chicken nuggets”?
I think that’s my problem – I hope for change but it’s likely I’ll ever know if that recipe was good enough to change a jerk and save a marriage. All I know is that I’ve been thinking about this chicken all day and when I see Jesse I’m going to tell him about it. He’s going to try to re-create it, and both of us will be equally terrified and giddy about eating it. We’ll lick our fingers, open another beer, and not think for a second about the change a joyous punishment might bring.
I understand a thing that’s a punishment and a joy. It’s like dwelling in possibility, like a small bird called Hope that sings without words and never stops, and never asks anything of me. “There’s nothing you can do,” Hope says, “I’m perched in your soul, and I come and go as a please.”
These poems of Emily Dickinson’s I’m harkening back to are what we read in class today. I don’t think the students got them and I’m sure it’s because I didn’t explain them well. I tried to. I tried to talk about the cedars in the second stanza, and how they might be a type of tree, so Possibility might a place to grow. Or maybe since the cedars are referred to frequently in the Bible, Dickinson is suggesting poetry is as holy as scripture. How great, I thought as I prepped my notes. Which one will they dwell in? Or, will they come up with another interpretation?
Some fell asleep. Others threw paper. One went to the nurse and I swear nothing was wrong but I can’t do anything to prove it.
It’s miserable when I can’t connect with them. Still, Hope perches in my soul and it won’t fly away. I don’t think I accept that it won’t ask anything of me, though. How can that be? What is wrong with my belief system that I insist it is all up to me and the work I do and how well I do it that will make Hope stay? How is it that Hope dwells in this house, makes it feel beautiful and capable and full of possibility and never asks for a thing? What kind of love is this where you understand the punishment but refuse to stop because there’s simply to much joy to eat?