When the days are cold, better yet snowy, I enjoy making stock. I watched my grandmother make it when I was a child, the chicken bones, or pork or beef, dropped into a large cast iron poet and set to boiling on her gas stove. She would add an onion sometimes, or some other leftover uncooked vegetable, and soon the house would be filled with the odor of broth, animal, vegetable, and goodness knows, maybe a little mineral thrown in for good measure. Good stock, as she called it. And that's what I had sprung from, too, she reminded me.
Stock is a word I grew up with, then, and it meant many things. My father called his cattle stock, sometimes all the growing things on his farm, and he was always "taking stock," making endless calculations and lists in his notebooks about crops, finances, and who knows what else.
His handwriting was always indecipherable to the rest of us.
I make stock from every bone and vegetable I can. I lift the gnawed bones from my husband's plate of ribs at Chili's, hiding them in my handbag as my grandmother used to do.
I wrap chicken bones from my brother's plate at O'Malley's Pub. And I never let any portion of a turkey or spiral ham go to waste. Thanksgiving begins my heavy-duty stock-making time. And stock-taking time. My birthday falls around Thanksgiving, and hitting Medicare age this past year set me to thinking hard about my mortality.
It's this time of year, though, that prods me to stir the stock-pot of my life, "the work of winter," as Adrienne Rich has called it. Everything goes into the pot, all the moods, the fears, the meanness, the dibs and dabs of joy, hope, love. This year I've been stirring the emotions swirling about aging parents, how to keep stability and strength throughout their inevitable decline.
And that insistent voice that taunts me, now that I am moving into my Post-Laureate phase, as I call it, asking What about MY work, will I be able to let it grow, will I be able to keep my poetry vital through my own inevitable decline? Why isn't my work more widely noticed? Why did such and such magazine reject my poems? Isn't my work any good anymore? Or am I just another little old lady poet, stirring her stockpot, going gray, more and more addled, hardly worthy of notice?
Well, that's all part of taking stock, I suppose. And meantime I'm sorting through old letters, old drafts, old clothes, and millions, no kidding, of old recipes. Not to mention old dreams that keep coming back about where to find what and how to get where and what to wear! What to keep, what to let go.
So I like the image of the stockpot. I can put just about anything into it and know that something worth tasting will eventually settle, even if it has a taste of heat or a taste of salty grief or sour disappointment. (Just call me the "stock-poet." I like that better than any of the other designations attached to me as a writer.)
What to keep, what to let go. Maybe that's the work of winter that Adrienne Rich means.
In the kitchen, I know what to keep. The stock pot waits. And I've a new pile of bones from the turkey breast I roasted over the coals in my wood stove two days ago when the power went out yet again. Let me tell you, this is the best-tasting turkey I've ever had, and I know the stock will live up to its origins. Good stock. Where I come from.