Thursday, March 19, 2009

Theme Thursday = Vegetable


How easily happiness begins by
dicing onions. A lump of sweet butter
slithers and swirls across the floor
of the saute pan, especially if its
errant path crosses a tiny slick
of olive oil. Then a tumble of onions.

This could mean soup or risotto
or chutney (from the Sanskrit
chatni, to lick). Slowly the onions
go limp and then nacreous
and then what cookbooks call clear,
though if they were eyes you could see

clearly the cataracts in them.
It's true it can make you weep
to peel them, to unfurl and to tease
from the taut ball first the brittle,
caramel-colored and decrepit
papery outside layer, the least

recent the reticent onion
wrapped around its growing body,
for there's nothing to an onion
but skin, and it's true you can go on
weeping as you go on in, thought
the moist middle skins, the sweetest

and thickest, and you can go on
in to the core, to the bud-like,
acrid fibrous skins densely
clustered there, stalky and in-
complete, and these are the most
pungent, like the nuggets of nightmare

and rage and murmury animal
comfort that infant humans secrete.
This is the best domestic perfume.
You sit down to eat with a rumor
of onions still on your twice-washed
hands and lift to your mouth a hint

of a story about loam and usual
endurance. It's there when you clean up
and rinse the wine glasses and make
a joke, and you leave the minutest
whiff of it on the light switch,
later, when you climb the stairs.

William Matthews

William Matthews published eleven books of poetry, including Time
& Money, 1996, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award,
and a book of essays entitled Curiosities, 1989. He served as
president of Associated Writing Programs and of the Poetry Society
of America and as a member and chair of the Literature Panel of
the National Endowment for the Arts. He received fellowships from
the Guggenheim and Ingram Merrill foundations, and he was
awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. He died of a heart attack on
November 12, 1997, the day after his fifty-fifth birthday.


  1. domestic perfume. perfect. especially with garlic.

  2. Hi Willow! Cool poem! I would've like to have met this Mr. Matthews. Alas, he left us too young :( Will have to look for his works. Thanks for another great intro!

  3. Nice! The onion was one of my choices, but I decided on another.

  4. Dare I say the poem brings a tear to my eye?

    But seriously, lovely poem. The essence of an onion captured in a layer of words. Thanks for exposing me to this and the poet.

  5. Onions, one of my nemesis foods. Just add onions with dairy and I'm ready to jump off the roof! Oh, the horror!

  6. Thank you for introducing me to this poet -- after a long acquaintance with poets of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century,I'm slowly getting to know some from the past fifty years.

  7. A most evocative poem, I loved the 'nuggets of nightmare'!

  8. What would cooking be without the humble onion? Its flavor enhances almost everything...except maybe ice cream. It's the perfect vegetable. It even comes in its own wrapper.

  9. I like the part about the wine glass. A very Zen moment. I have been there.

  10. Honestly, I always love when the smell of garlic and shallots and onions lingers on my hands. There's no eeewwhh about it! You are reminded of all that hard work and the wonderful final result. (As in writing a great poem, like this one!)
    I noticed that you've been doing a lot of walking...Good for you. I've got to get started and stopping here reminds me. I like that side-bar reminder!
    All the best,
    P.S. Lots of Infant of Prague stuff on E-Bay. Unbelievable!

  11. Never read this one before, thanks Willow!

    I remember my father always warning us when there was onions in something - because he knew we would eat little, leaving more for him! One by one we found out his little ruse...

  12. There seems to be a pan-bloggal theme developing. Have you seen mouse medicine today? "Salad days"!

    I love poems - and poets - that look at simple, everyday things like onions and help the rest of us to really see them.

  13. Willow, you are so savvy - the new widget at the bottom of this post, or maybe it's at the bottom of alot of posts - I get so far behind here! very cool!and I love the photo of the onion - have I said how good you are with that camera? - you're good!

  14. There seems to be a cross-bloggal theme developing. Have you seen mouse medicine today? "Salad days"!

    I love poems - and poets - that look at simple, everyday things like onions and help the rest of us to really see them.

  15. Great photo of the lovely onion...what a shine on the table.
    I don't know when it happened but I can no longer eat raw onions, not red, not green but I can still enjoy the cooked ones!

  16. When I cook the rule is everything needs onions and lets not forget garlic.

    Great post!

  17. I will never look (weep?) at an onion in the same way again. Thanks for the introduction to Mr. Mathews!

  18. onions onions onions! great post. I was wondering if you would tell me what or where you found that widget about " The Current Manor Events" I really like that idea. If you don't mind sharing your great find I would love to do something similar. Thanks Willow!

  19. Somehow that poem was like making love to an onion. I love red onions on my burgers, it just changes the whole taste of a burger. I love onions in so many of my dishes. Sometimes, a meal is just not complete without the onion.

    But that was the best poem I have ever seen about an onion. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I loved it.

    God bless.

  20. A wonderful poem about a humble vegetable...shades of Nigel Slater within these words?
    Thank you Willow.

  21. Fragrant choice of poem and theme. He drew me in, layer by layer.

  22. Not only do I love onions, but I don't even mind the tears. And as the first poster wrote, the combination of onions and garlic is one of nature's biggest accomplishments.

    Greetings from London.

  23. Hi Willow great poem!

    The best smell ever:onions,garlic and basil cooking in olive oil!
    You open the door and you go right in the kitchen!

    Have a great day!

  24. I never thought about an onion this way, great poem. I got the wmcbm yesterday, reading the book trying to figure it out.

  25. This is a great poem about the onion. I will have it on my mind next time I am crying while chopping the damned thing :)

  26. Hello Willow,

    An unusual contemplation of the onion! Something so common, yet so essental, that many of us probably never think about at all!

  27. Good heavens! Did not know there was a poem about stomach is starting to growl now. LOL

  28. Domestic perfume, indeed...what a delightful Romance of the Onion :)

  29. I had never heard of this poet.
    What lovely attention to precise detail.
    Thank you!

  30. The onion picture is exquisite! I always like the onion metaphor of peeling away the layers, but the onions-will-make-you-cry - in a good way - metaphor works too.

    Onions? They're all around GOOD!!

  31. nice simple pic and play on onions. they add so much to otherwise boring dishes. love when the vidalias come in season...a little butter and salt...almost like candy.

  32. what a beautiful ode to the onion....

    for flavoring, garlic and onion reign supreme in my kitchen....

  33. I see you peeled that theme Thursday nicely...

  34. Very nice, even though I cannot stand onions!

  35. *Gasp* lovely poem!! Thanks so much for sharing it and Mr. Matthews... I'll be looking for more on him.

  36. Great poem!!! And I have a great love of onions.... I posted recently that I cook with an onion & olive oil each time I make a meal!!! LOVE THEM!

    Thank you for the introduction to this poet. ~Cheryl

  37. Wonderful post - and a poem on onions!!!

    I've always been fascinated by onion skin - how brittle on the outside, giving way to layer after layer of almost liquid translucency.

  38. This is quite a coincidence, Willow. I've just posted on Blasts From the Past about the first job I ever had at an Italian restaurant. My first task: chopping onions. I even have a pic very similar to the one you've used. Eerie!


  39. i dont eat onion, but this poem makes them so likeable. lol.

  40. Amazing the hands of an artist, even the most humble object
    is grateful to you for this!!

  41. I've never read a paean to the onion before! I think I need to become better acquainted with the work of William Matthews. Thanks, Willow!

  42. who of thought, poetry about onions!
    a great find...

  43. And it always makes me cry!

    Glad to see you have a new camera!! Just in time for Spring photos!

    Happy sunny day to you from both of us!

  44. I can smell the onions in that poem willow.

  45. I would rather do without chocolate than onions!

  46. Willow, what a great poem. I'm not familiar with him. "Nacreous" is a word that's new too.

    Happy Theme Thursday!

  47. I never thought of onions as domestic perfume but underarm sweat was called that in the Army.

  48. You read a good poem and you wonder how they do it and how long it takes them to slave over it. And yet, when reading, it feels like it was a snap to write. A delicious poem.

  49. An ode to the onion.
    I LOVE IT!!

  50. I have to say that I'm not a fan of poetry but boy did he capture the humble onion! Where would we be without them? How come the smell of frying onions always smells better on someone else's barbecue?

  51. very nice. enjoyed the poem

  52. Enjoyed the poem...weeping with delight...ur...rather I was chopping onions for dinner...thanks for the post, Willow...
    Also on the sidebar- the quote from V. Woolf, Mrs. D., is most stylish and clever! <3

  53. Looks like you are enjoying your new camera! Beautiful shot!

  54. Oh, I loved the poem--I'm not familiar with him, either, so I'll have to investigate further. Onions are sublime--no meal is complete without the simmering of an onion as you start the cooking process, in my opinion.

  55. Not a day goes by without me chopping or slicing an onion!

  56. this reminded me that pablo neruda has an "ode to the onion" in his "odes to common things"

    shining flask,
    your beauty assembed
    petal by petal,
    they affixed crystal scales to you
    and your belly of dew grew round
    in the secret depth of the dark earth.

    it goes on from there, but is a bit too long to type it all here as a comment. :-) look it up, it's great.

  57. Beautiful!

    Here's another Onion poem for you:

    Ode To The Onion
    Pablo Neruda

    luminous flask,
    your beauty formed
    petal by petal,
    crystal scales expanded you
    and in the secrecy of the dark earth
    your belly grew round with dew.
    Under the earth
    the miracle
    and when your clumsy
    green stem appeared,
    and your leaves were born
    like swords
    in the garden,
    the earth heaped up her power
    showing your naked transparency,
    and as the remote sea
    in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
    duplicating the magnolia,
    so did the earth
    make you,
    clear as a planet
    and destined
    to shine,
    constant constellation,
    round rose of water,
    the table
    of the poor.

    You make us cry without hurting us.
    I have praised everything that exists,
    but to me, onion, you are
    more beautiful than a bird
    of dazzling feathers,
    heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
    unmoving dance
    of the snowy anemone

    and the fragrance of the earth lives
    in your crystalline nature.

    Translated by Stephen Mitchell

  58. Yummy! That poem made me drool, must cook with onions this weekend. We're planting Walla wallas in the garden.

    And thank you for stopping by!

  59. Ah, the lowly onion is elevated to a new level in this poem. And it deserves to be.

  60. This poem was so rich with associations -- and so true, too.

  61. i'm enjoying your new header photo with the gorgeous black and white grainy effect. it so goes with the whole theme of your blog. and, how creative are you with the check out these old postings links at the bottom of your posts. i've not seen that on any other blog!!!

  62. Turning The Humble into the Magnificent.Which is what Poetry is about,I guess?

  63. Thankyou for posting this poem. The 'domestic' made so memorable.


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)