Emily Wall

The Taste of Light
—a sestina

We have to begin somewhere, so we begin with butter.
To begin with butter, we begin with the cow, the grass, the light
falling on a farm in Petaluma. The way it gilds
the grasses that will be eaten. The way it warms
the rich, black soil. Look at that lemony
field, look at that cow, and the way she moves, the crush

of clover under her foot. What we really begin with, is a crush
on food. Is it like sex? I think of Tom, and the way he butters
the top of an omelet he’s made for me, under one small lamp, lemony
light, concentric circles: omelet, chervil, butter, tongue. Lightly
sweet: teeth. We all want this. Don’t we? A pool of warmth
at the end of every day, after the bang and riot of this gilded

city. And from the butter, comes everything else: gilt-edged
mirrors revealing the chef working behind you, crushing
cumin and coriander for the lamb. The blaze of the wood fire warming
his hands, as he works. And next to him, another chef blotting butter
lettuce, one leaf at a time. Yes, it’s this slow. If you want to gather light
from a farm, and plate it, you have to change your breath. Look: a lemon

slice on a pure white plate. Just this. Breathe lemon, smell lemon. Only lemon.
Do you see? When all you have is one, pure, piece of fruit, it becomes gilded
as a picture, hanging in the Louvre, as do you. Your breath becomes light.
Go ahead, pick up this slice. Feel its silky texture in your hands. Now crush
it in your Pellegrino. Inhale the sharpness. Your mind leaps to buttery
cheese you had, once, years ago in Provence, small café, on a warm

autumn day. Are you beginning to see? Suddenly a laugh at the next table warms
you. You look at this man, his laugh, sweet and sharp as lemonade
on a hot day. You don’t know him, but something in your knees feels buttery,
meaty. You are both sitting, both eating Carpaccio. His laugh has gilded
the air. Of course you are connected now. Of course you have a crush
on him. What would he be like to kiss? To discuss a novel with? His hand light

on your back, as you head home. You walk, the night lightly
scented with oranges. You have done something good: voted well, plated warm
food in a homeless shelter, fought against racism. You are even now crushing
the patriarchy. The food industrial complex. No more pesticides on our lemons.
Why did we ever think this was impossible? We peel that layer of gild
off the American lily and remember who we are: field, grasses, cows. Butter.

Now, I bring you a lemon soufflé. Go ahead. Gild your tongue
with its buttery center. When you leave, carry this crush with you. 
This light. The warmth of this beginning.

Emily Wall, an Associate Professor of English at the University of Alaska, is the author of two full-length collections, Letters from Mary and With Reverence, both from Salmon Press. A third book, Breaking into Air, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. She has been published in a wide variety of literary journals in the US and Canada, most recently in Prairie Schooner and Alaska Quarterly Review. Emily lives and writes in Juneau, Alaska.



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