Put together a lemony garlicky still-warm chicken salad with a handful of rocket (arugula), coriander (cilantro), toasted cashews and spring onions (scallions). Too hot a summer’s evening for anything more filling. Elsewhere, people were stabbing the haggis and ploughing through mounds of neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) in honour of Rabbie Burns’ birthday, a tradition observed by my Scottish relatives and parents’ friends in Zimbabwe and Zambia all through my childhood. We were taught to recite Tam O’Shanter and Holy Wullie’s Prayer in a parody of broad Scotch, dressed in knee-length tartan skirts and carelessly ironed white blouses, standing up nice and straight with shoulders back while the adults slouched around, mooching and yawning while drinking imported whisky. Those verses must have sounded downright peculiar from the mouth of a six-year-old girl.
O Lord, Thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, an’ swearers swear,
An’ singing here, an’ dancin there,
Wi’ great and sma’;
For I am keepit by Thy fear
Free frae them a’.
But yet, O Lord! confess I must,
At times I’m fash’d wi’ fleshly lust:
An’ sometimes, too, in worldly trust,
Vile self gets in;
But Thou remembers we are dust,
Defil’d wi’ sin.
Ah yes, fleshly lust indeed. I once went out with a man who gave his penis the name of Pooter. He would bounce into bed naked and shout: ‘Say hello to Pooter!’ Which was amusing and even endearing the first five or six times, not so much after that. I don’t know many women who have coy or frivolous nicknames for their private parts or who complain about waxing their legs or tweezering hairs in twitchy places, but there is a male tradition of joky euphemisms and via Andrew Sullivan here I came across the funniest comments I have ever read by men who applied Veet Hair Removal Gel Creme to their genitals, AKA the ‘gentleman’s log cabin’ or ‘meat and two veg’. Spare a thought for all the strong silent women ripping hot wax off their girlish mossy dells.
Out in the back garden, ruby pomegranates are ripening along with white Genoa figs. A branch of persimmons leans over the garden wall, heavy and flame-coloured. Time for another poem, discussed here.
It rained last night. The pomegranates,
Red and orange-red,
Have all burst open into flower.
Not to be comforted,
I sit in this cool pavilion
Set in a lotus lake
And under its glass-bead curtains wait
For my closed heart to break.
Sin Hum (1566-1628)
Translated by Graeme Wilson (1972)