Any family story has multiple versions: what I remember, what you remember, what really happened.
There’s the film in the minds of those who were there, a different editor’s cut for each mind. There’s the magnification and decay of what happens to a story as it is handed down by telling and retelling. There is what’s lost when main characters die. And there is the hybrid, revisionary, even multimedia tale when someone who wasn’t even born yet enters the story.
Where is the truth?
Maybe it’s the journalist in me that makes me approach poems partly wanting to know, “Did that really happen? Is that true?” Of course, in a good poem, it’s all true, but not necessarily strictly factual truth.
Eating the Whole Egg
For My Great-Grandfather
Oral history tells us you went through
three wives. One story is that
every day you breakfasted with
your current spouse on toast
and a three-minute egg,
chipping off its white cap in the precise
British way, and in a grand gesture,
spooning to your wife that minor albumen,
watery, pale as her self. That was her meal;
you feasted on yolk, rich and yellow
as a gold sovereign, and crushed the shells,
feeding them by gritty doses to
your offspring lined up along the table—
a supplement to stave off rickets and
accustom the family to patriarchy.
Nourished thus on remnants and rigor,
your tribe multiplied to twenty-two.
The legend astonishes me still. And I
still bear, along with traces of those women’s
genes, a vestigial guilt
whenever I cook myself a breakfast egg
and then devour it, white, yolk,
protein, cholesterol, and all. Like
seeing the sun after generations of moons.
Like being the golden egg and eating it too.
The story (which she calls a legend) astonishes me too. While the one great-grandfather whose stories I know was nothing like the man described here, I know what it is for a giver’s magnanimous to be a receiver’s stingy. So many people, even now, have been “nourished … on remnants and rigor.”
In the end-of-year top-heavy time of family gatherings, probably some stories got told, and some versions were held in silence, and hurdles had to be leaped to eat an egg or fruitcake or meat or pumpkin pie. In the beginning-of-year retrospection and forward-spection that marks January, it might be ripe time to tell an old story in a new voice.
Recipe: Eggs and Soldiers
1. Put eggs in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water and place over high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 3 minutes for runny eggs.
2. In the meantime, toast some bread well done, and cut into narrow strips.
3. Prepare egg cups. If you don’t have egg cups, cut off a corner of the egg container, or nestle in a cup filled with rice.
4. With a slotted spoon, carefully remove eggs and place in the cups. Tap each shell gently with a teaspoon and remove the tops.
5. Dip toast soldiers into drippy egg. Enjoy.
Read more Eating and Drinking Poems