A Dram of Bitters

A little something to start the week. It comes from Rebecca Seiferle's excellent collection, called "Bitters", which holds poems that explore, and sometimes celebrate, the challenging times of life. And isn't it curious that, at these times, we as humans have turned to bitter herbs? Bitters are endemic. They are a part of us, as surely as we are a part of this green world. If you're traveling far afield this week, may your road shine clear before you. If you are finding comfort in the warmth of your own kitchen, may your hearth fire burn bright. Either way, may you taste sweet earth.

A Dram of Bitters
Rebecca Seiferle
originally published by Copper Canyon Press, 2001

"Bitters" are not bitter, are not
injurious, ancient instruments
of torture, cruel flavorings
of death, are not "the proper pain
of taste" (according to Bain, the baneful),
but a small bottle of bitters, a drop
or two, makes the orange juice brilliant
in a glass of gin and quiets
the stomach when it is unsettled
by true bitterness - whatever
in the world is "hard to swallow"
or admit, the crumb of cruelty
caught in one's craw, the iron bit
gnashing in one's teeth, the baleful
bile of "what has to be"
tasted to extremity.
Which is probably why
the British, intoxicated
in South America, copyrighted the recipe
into the colonial world
to try and make purgative,
a medicinal substance,
out of their own doubtful history,
caught between sour peevishness
and virulence of action
and of feeling - chugging the wild plenty
of the bitters down. But, no, bitters
is something more than "a noggin
of lightning, a quartern of gin." A secret
recipe distilled from the bark of the tree
of life, the original verb of an aboriginal sensitivity, the surviving
noun of a cloud canopy in Venezuela, the genealogy
of a mindful tribe, the undiscovered draught
of mercy - not extract of gentian
or quinine or wormwood, those Old World
poetic distillations - but something vegetable,
persistent, extending roots into the world.
An autochthonic brew. Who tastes it,
tastes sweet earth.



A short stroll on a warm day in early winter. The white flowers of black hellebore. The push and pull leaves eddies.

When the sun grows weak, extinguished
By time too long spent in southern seas
And tricks you, who know the season
(The last squash rotting in the field,)
There still comes a prodigal warmth
That settles over the green,
Unlocks the frost,
And stills the coldest wind.
Set loose the scent of leaf-mould,
Flower Helleborus black,
The lovelies grace the forest path
As you pull back.