Catharine Savage Brosman, who now lives in Houston, is Professor Emerita of French at Tulane University. Her publications include numerous volumes of French literary history and criticism, two volumes of nonfiction prose, and seven collections of verse, including, most recently, Range of Light (LSU Press, 2007) and Breakwater (Mercer University Press, 2009). Her new collection, Under the Pergola, will appear at LSU Press in September 2011.
It’s homely, or considered so, because
resistant, humble, easy to conserve;
its perfume certainly gets no applause—
in short, a vegetable with little verve.
The name suggests good food (such as corned beef)—
but certain notions I could do without:
thin soups for prisoners, and poor relief;
bad cole slaw; wartime use of German Kraut;
the tale that children come from cabbage plants;
torn leaves that rot by the greengrocer’s stall.
No matter. Chou means varied things in France:
Plain caulis and its kindred, first of all—
then, joined to other words, a curious mix:
a flop; a worthless journalistic sheet;
inane or simple-minded; in a fix;
retire to the countryside; my sweet;
and cream-puff, finally. What fancy fare
appears so metaphoric? Not morels,
nor white asparagus, ripe Anjou pear,
real Russian caviare, snails in their shells.
Like apples, cabbages are almost myth,
suggesting something fundamental, true—
beneath life’s incidental ornaments, its pith
and quintessential being, old and new.
To scorn a veggie, therefore, is unfair:
though given a fiery heart, a poet’s mind,
we also are composed of water, air,
and earth—plain light and minerals, refined.
Humility can never be amiss,
nor love for cabbage in its leafy robe,
its head too hard to fathom the abyss
beyond the edges of our glorious globe.