August 7, 1961
shifting from ham to ham
Plate-scraping at the sink, she consecrates
To Christ her Lord the misery in her legs.
Tinges of spring engage the bulbous land.
Packets of dyestuff wait for Easter eggs.
Frail-boned, stooped low as she, forsythia
In its decrepitude still ventures flowers.
How can He die and common life go on?
A beer truck desecrates God’s passionate hours.
He died for those who do not give a damn.
Brooding on sorrowful mysteries, she shoves
Into its clean white forehead-fat the ham’s
Thorn crown of cloves.
X. J. Kennedy: “Aunt Rectita’s Good Friday”
Andrew O’Hagan remarks that ‘good reporters go hunting for nouns’ (LRB, 7 June). Well of course. Hemingway, like some territorial animal, noun-marks his progressions; and not at all unlike a great many drunks, finds it essential to name his drinks, as if crediting friends or role models. Many drink-at-home-drunks retain loyalty to the empties – ‘absent friends’ – by never throwing them out. Hemingway names his bars and cafés in much the same way.
Sometime in the 1970s I was sitting at the zinc in Harry’s Bar in Paris (sorry), earnestly telling the heavy-lidded bartender how to make a Bloody Mary, while I waited for a friend to finish his day’s labours at nearby Price Waterhouse. The shot of manzanilla is particularly important, I told him, in binding together the other ingredients. Busy polishing glasses as he listened, lids by then lower than Buster Keaton’s, he glanced ceilingwards, silently drawing my myopic gaze to a large pair of blackened hams suspended above. Odd, I thought, a smart Paris joint like this, displaying seasoned hams like some Spanish café. As I slid off my stool to slip downstairs to the bathroom, I came face to face with a sign declaring that the Bloody Mary had been invented in Harry’s Bar by Hemingway in, I think, the 1920s. And what I thought were old hams were in fact the Old Ham’s boxing gloves.
I smell a pervasion of ham frying in the distance
O. Henry, Heart of the West
With a tough bristle of hair, like a small beast
With head and feet tucked under, playing possum.
A meat-hooked ham, hung like a traitor’s head
For the public’s notice in a butcher shop,
Faintly resembling the gartered thigh
Of an acrobatic, overweight soubrette. Hecht, Venetian Vespers; cf “The butcher / opens his glass door like St. Peter, / as angels heave in flanks of pork / that are strung with ribs like enormous harps.”
Turkey with necklace of sausages and gaping interior
When no untoward circumstance prevents, however, turkey is the traditional Christmas dish. Some people like him roasted, and some people like him boiled, some demand that he shall have a necklace of sausages, and some that he shall be stuffed with oysters, while others yet prefer chestnuts. Whatever the stuffing may be made of, let it be savory with pot-herbs for then when it is thrust into the turkey’s gaping interior, and he is thrust into the oven, that luscious odor arises which brings the cat out from under the stove to snuff and mew, and which, in little houses, penetrates into the room where the family are gathered, and makes them sniff and smile and tell old jokes.
A roast of beef is a necessary presence at an English Christmas dinner, but Americans, I think, are well content with a ham, or in some localities, a chicken pie; a luscious deep chicken pie, with thick gravy bubbling up through the little bias openings in the crust, and, on top, bits of pastry cut out and pinched into the shape of holly leaves. Oysters also make a delicious filling for such a pie. In that case it becomes a “toad in the hole,” for a cup has to be put in to hold up the crust.
The ham should wear a frilled paper collar like the ham Alice saw in the Looking-Glass Country. He should also be decorated with spots of pepper and cloves stuck into the fat in a pattern. His paper ruff gives him such a personality that the housewife just naturally calls him “he” as soon as she gets him into his collar.
Country Life in America, 1904
Blancmanging out whatever it is that is doing the damage
The barrel by the radiogram
Held seven gallons
As a balance
To the seven-pound ham [ … ]
They ate till eight;
Course after course
Trifle and tinned asparagus
Piled on his plate
Larkin, from “Leave,” in the Burnett ed. (And in A Girl in Winter: “[she] unwrapped a paper of sausages and pricked them before putting them in a frying pan. There was half an onion that had lain in a saucer for several weeks, and she added a few translucent rings …”)
If blood means anything, it means we dine
Together, face the music and enjoy
Strolling come evening like two genuwine
Expatriates out of Pound or Hemingway
Into the notoriously vine-
Secluded trattoria — no display,
Just bottomless carafe, and dish on dish
Produced by magic, and all night to pay.
Melon with ham, risotto with shellfish,
Cervello fritto spitting fire at us,
Black cherries’ pit-deep sweetness, babyish
Skins glowing from a bowl of ice, nonplus
My footsore guest, such juicy arguments
For the dolce vita …
Merrill, The Book of Ephraim