Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman

Ellen Phethean

It waits in the basket, insouciant,
round of limb and buttock,
furry as a doe's back. Lay hold
and feel its heft and mass, how

it's boney as a skull. Wash it
and the down rubs off; scrub roughly till
the skin's alive and sheens with promise.
Choose the sharpest knife to reveal the core,

its coarse dry flesh will roll from the blade,
and resist unless the touch is firm. Persist, it must
be sliced, cut into pieces, for only then
will the body relent to open, soften.

Simmer in red wine or water,
with sugar and pips to help it set,
this tough fruit will burnish to a jellied rose,
with honey kiss. It takes new form.

The recipe's too onerous for those
whose appetites are raised on pluck and eat.
Aphrodite's food of love,
whose art is being lost.

Wise women know: give her time,
she'll gift her ruby harvest.
Praise the quince.



Ellen Phethean

Ellen Phethean runs Diamond Twig Press, which she founded with Julia Darling. She also works as a poet, playwright, creative writing tutor and editor.

Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman (Red Squirrel Press) is Ellen's second collection, after Breath (Flambard Press 2009, now reissued by Red Squirrel). She explains:

"In an attempt to break out of a rut, to test myself a little as I faced becoming an 'OAP', I spent October 2013 in the Dordogne, woofing. That is: working on an organic farm. I was hosted by Leni Dipple, who runs the small holding of walnut trees, fruit and veg. She is also a poet. As we gardened, gathered, cooked, wrote and talked, we discussed the older woman's place in a fast food culture. Learning about the extraordinary quince led to this poem, which seemed a fitting overall title for the collection."

Read more about Ellen here, or read Ellen's diary of her month in the Dordogne. Ellen's previous Poems of the Month are Triads on Smallness and Breath; a more recent poem is Cuckmere Haven.

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Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman © 2014 Ellen Phethean: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.