Monday, February 15, 2010

Smell, Taste, Sound

Walking a sidewalk anytime, I
smell a metallic, coffee-like pungence,
not unpleasant but sharp, almost tangy, and
I am 16, summer, sweating down
Gravier Street, halfway between Camp and
Magazine In New Orleans, with a delivery of
paper and envelopes.

I walk into a grocery store, for anything, and
see a baked circle of flour, cinnamon and
purpled greened and goldened sugar, and
I am 13, at a King Cake party, and my piece had
the plastic baby inside, and I will be the
king to host the next party until
we hibernate for Lent.

I hear an accented voice, anywhere, New
York or Paris or Montreal or St. Louis, with a
distinctive combination of German-Irish-Italian
English, immigrant blended, like Brooklyn but
not quite like, and I am 10, in my boy
suit and tie, punch in hand, at a cousin’s
wedding in the Ninth Ward.

I ache for that smell, that taste, that sound, and
each time I am surprised I didn’t know it.

Update and explanation: King Cake is an old Mardi Gras tradition -- my mother went to King Cake parties when she was young (and she's in her 80s now). Once a week in the month leading up to Mardi Gras, there would be a "King Cake Party," usually for boys and girls in the 12-14 year-old set. It was like a mixer, with junior highers standing around acting embarrassed and eyeing each other nervously. The cake, like a coffee cake, was cut into pieces and served. In one piece was a plastic baby (it was a bean when my mother was a girl). Whoever got that piece became the king or queen (and the host) of the next party. The last party was held the weekend before Mardi Gras. For the full blown history of the King Cake (and it's complicated), you can visit Mardi Gras Unmasked (and dozens of other sites).


katdish said...

Ah, the King Cake! Like a giant, icing covered donut with a baby inside.

That's gonna sound really weird to anyone unfamiliar with Mardi Gras.

Lorrie said...

So amazing how quickly our senses can withdraw memories from their little file folders. Thanks for sharing some of yours!!

Maureen said...

I so appreciate how you relate the details of your growing up in your poems, how you go back in age while going back in time. These are picture-poems. That last one is especially poignant.

And what a lucky boy you were to win that plastic baby! (I was a young adult before I knew what King Cake was. I thought it was such a cool idea.)

Anonymous said...

each time
I am
I didn’t know it.

S. Etole said...

that last line caught me, too ... and King Cake ... that was a new one

Linda said...

You made me think back to the scents and sounds of my childhood - the smell of the ocean as we approached my Aunt's house on the Island; Shep barking, my Italian Grandfather trying to communicate to this bewildered little girl.
This is so beautifully written.

Kathleen Overby said...

Takin' us back with you. How generous. I didn't know about King Cake. :)

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how the smells and sights and sounds take us back. How blessed we are that our senses have memory! How much we would forget if they didn't!

Russell Holloway said...

Nice. Thanks Glynn. Long before the Internet, cake and tradition brought us together ...

Michelle DeRusha said...

Never heard of the King Cake tradition, if you can believe that! Thanks for enlightening me!

Jennifer @ said...

I've only recently learned of the King Cake. I love the flavor that you bring to the tradition.

Through your writing, I smell and taste and hear it, too.

Laura said...

Sigh. Just this morning I was telling my friends how hubs took me to N'awlins' last March for my fortieth birthday. Do you think it would be asking too much to go two years in a row?

You have awakened the sehnschuct, my friend. I thank you. Tonite? I dream of Muffelettas, Gumbo, and crawfish etouffee...

nitewrit said...

I knew of the King Cake traditions, but never experienced them being a Northern, yet it takes me to those delectable missed treats of my own boyhood, like crust pie or the more well-known Shoo-fly.