By Thorpe Moeckel
“Wild Ice Cream” is the simplest kind of poem—a list poem—and it’s rooted in a particular time in my life. I wrote it in my late twenties, in 1999 or 2000. Our first daughter was a toddler then. We were reading her many stories and children’s books. I enjoyed these books, especially the alphabet primers, and I liked the ritual of reading—the togetherness. Things I enjoy—isn’t joy sometimes as destabilizing as grief?—tend to influence my writing.
During that time, I was adjusting to a more domestic life after ten years of leading outdoor trips on rivers and trails from Maine to Florida. Eating ice cream and reading these fun kid’s books helped with this transition. In other words, I missed the extended work in the outdoors (I had been leading 30-day trips before Sophie was born) for many reasons, one of them being the intimate contact with plants, critters, weather, customers, and landforms in beautifully various parts of the Appalachians and Eastern coastal regions.
Poetry has always been a means to synthesize various life-urges and passions. “Wild Ice Cream” is not only a blend of life forms from very diverse ecosystems—coral polyp and blue spruce, for instance—but it was also a way to stir some of my favorite life forms in the psychic mixing bowl that is a poetry draft—bugs, animals, plants, rocks, fruit, grains, music, the playful vibe of children’s books, as well as a nod and smirk at the designer ice cream industry. In a sense, it was a roll call for the things I missed living with day in and day out—things I hoped my young daughter would know, as well as an homage to Ben & Jerry for their willingness to make ice cream with creative flavors and great ingredients and tastes.
I appreciate the opportunity to look back at this poem because it makes me hungry for ice cream—which is a good thing—and also because when I look at poems from that period of life (and even from the present period), I become aware of certain yearnings that serve as predictors, road signs of sorts, for where life might take us, my family and me. I become aware, too, of how lucky we’ve been.
While teaching at Hollins University for the last seven years, I’ve also been helping my wife and kids work a little Permaculture farm/homestead, where among the many food/soil building systems, we raise a Nubian goat dairy herd. We make cheeses, yogurts, kefir, and ice cream from that goat milk. We don’t get too crazy with the flavors, and I doubt we’ll get into milking gorillas anytime soon, but in every line of this poem are at least two things we grow, raise, or wild-harvest (and then process and eat) from our 18 acres and the surrounding fields, forest, streams, and rivers. Today there was basil and walnut in the pesto we mixed into a chevre spread for lunch. And the pawpaw will be ripe before too long.
A last note: if I remember correctly, Ben & Jerry had a contest in the late 1990’s where you could send them flavor ideas. If they liked your flavor, you won a year’s worth of free ice cream. This poem was the entry I never sent.
Thorpe Moeckel is the author of three poetry collections, the most recent, Venison, was published by Etruscan Press in 2010. Making a Map of the River was published by Iris Press in spring 2008, and his first book of poems, Odd Botany, winner of the Gerald Cable Award, was published in 2002 by Silverfish Review Press. After years guiding trips on rivers and trails in the Appalachians, he earned an MFA in 2002 at University of Virginia, where he was a Jacob K. Javits and Henry Hoyns Fellow. A former Kenan Visiting Writer at UNC-Chapel Hill, Moeckel was awarded a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Literary Fellowship in poetry. He teaches in the writing program at Hollins University, and lives with his wife and children in Western Virginia.
For more, please visit: http://fishousepoems.org/archives/thorpe_moeckel/index.shtml.
WILD ICE CREAM
Dandelion sorbet, beechnut-chicory root,
persimmon, yellow dock-goat milk, crawdad-mulberry,
& elderberry-birch; we’ve got goldenseal-soynut,
marijuana-horseradish, sesame-carrot & blue spruce;
basil-walnut, & a periwinkle-kelp swirl. Or try
quartzite-yellowwood, a scoop of barnacle crunch,
ciderbug, waterstrider, black ant-chip.
Coral polyp, orb-weaver-lemon balm, tahini-prune–
there’s bluegill roe-watercress, poision ivy-touch me not,
& amanita-skullcap. Or beebalm, violet-crabapple,
galax-wintergreen. If none of that sounds good,
try jimson weed-sweet corn, roasted lime bean.
Here’s iris, carrot-sesame, & bee pollen-gorilla milk.
Even puffed quinoa, rugosa-cattail, pawpaw-bladderwort.
—Poet Lore Volume 97, No 1/2, p 9
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