In Xanadu

The Art of Falling

You fall from a horse enough times
and you learn how to fall—
like snow, rain or love,
all goose-down and no elbows.

He spooks at a leaf, knocking you
sideways, the saddle slips—and well,
you are going down again.
Relax, you’ll get used to it.

Relax, you say to the lobster,
just before plopping him
into the roiling pot.
Relax, you say to a friend

on the eve of another bender.
Or to yourself,
falling off a ledge
onto a concrete floor.

It’s easy when you imagine
a soft landing.
But when your mother sinks

into her pillow in her final hour,
she knows she’s not falling with grace.
Blah, blah, blah, she mouths,

flicking the back of her bruised hand
as if brushing away a gnat,
when the priest lowers his head

to trace the thumbprint of oil,
first up and down, then sideways
on her glistening forehead.

 

Two recent occurrences made me scurry for my mother’s recipes in search of comfort. First was our move to South Carolina, no small task when you’ve lived in a Blue State for 35 years.

The other was a tumble I took last week when my girth snapped over a cross country schooling fence. Technically, I survived, thanks to my Charles Owen helmet and my Point Two Air vest. I would have been toast otherwise–broken ribs, a broken head, or worse.

The rest of my week has been sore and dreamy, as I slowly realized— through my Coleridgian haze of hydrocodone and Advil, gobbled to mask the pain in my “bad” shoulder that received the brunt of the fall and leaving me sleepless— that it hadn’t rained so much as a drop in these southern parts since Hurricane Matthew three weeks ago.

“No worries,” Barrett tried to reassure his stricken wife, “this part of the world has a lot of underground water.”

“Is that because we are so close to sea level?” I cleverly countered, or so I thought.

“They give all the underground water to the orange growers there,” he complained, “not enough left over for everyone else.”

“Oh. I guess that explains it,” as I not-so-merrily went re-positioning the water sprinklers.

I left one hose running in a water trough by mistake overnight, which compromised our water pressure for an entire day. There’s a lot of turning on and turning off around here, hard to get used to. Or remember.

Unlike the long, accustomed rainy days and nights, listening to that music on the tin roof of our Upperco farmhouse, lulling us to sleep. I didn’t know until I left how much I depended upon bad weather, though the old fear would occasionally sparkle: never have too much of something you love or it might never be sunny again.

Here, I wake to relentless sunshine, day after day. What makes good weather so enticing?, I’d like to know. Don’t you have to have bad weather in order to have the good?

Barrett brings home a Moulin Rouge folding screen that he moves around the bedroom to damper the early-morning awful light. “God-damned Toulouse- Lautrec,” I mutter. Barrett starts humming Billy Joel ala Nicole Kidman. Where I grew up in northwestern Pennsylvania, we never worried about our wells running dry. In fact, we never even had a well, but delicious spring water that trickled down from the Allegheny mountains culminating at our very own foothill. Now that was some water.

My home town of Warren was nearly always overcast. It rained on an average of 50 inches per year. Oh sure, we complained about it, but we never worried about not having enough of it. Not to mention 75 inches of snow.

Here, the best I can do on sore, dry, sleepless nights is go leafing through my mother’s recipes stacked in one corner of The Bird Room, where the previous owners caged four ancient parrots; and where we hope to put our books once it starts raining and the carpenter can take advantage of a good inside day for building bookshelves. As for my shoulder, well, that’s a more complicated bone.

 

Barbecued Meatballs

Like Cool Whip in the kahlua mousse, cream of tartar in the soufflé, canned clams in the clam dip, this one is almost embarrassingly easy: simple enough to enjoy making, complex enough to want to enjoy again. Your dinner guests will think you slaved all day to put this recipe together.

1 pound ground round
1 16 oz. pkg. Pepperidge Farm herbed seasoned stuffing
1 egg
Salt, pepper
Your favorite barbecue sauce

Mix thoroughly the ground round, egg, and about ¾ of the package of stuffing, salt, pepper. The key to this recipe is to add lots of stuffing, so don’t be bashful. When in doubt, add more.

Fashion into LARGE meatballs, about the size of a golf ball. Brown on all sides on medium high heat in a deep skillet in about 2 T olive oil, rotating the meatballs frequently. When browned, cover skillet tightly, and reduce heat to medium low.

Continue cooking for about 20 minutes, or until the meat is thoroughly cooked. Then add entire bottle of barbecue sauce, and continue cooking for about ten more minutes. If you feel adventurous and/or the sauce gets a little too thick, you can add some red table wine.

We always served these meatballs with baked potatoes, dripping with butter and salt and pepper, and frozen lima beans, but you pick. In any event, this recipe gives the term “comfort food” new meaning.