American Life in Poetry


Anyone can write a poem that nobody can understand, but poetry is a means of communication, and this column specializes in poems that communicate. What comes more naturally to us than to instruct someone in how to do something? Here the Minnesota poet and essayist Bill Holm, who is of Icelandic parentage, shows us how to make something delicious to eat.

Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe

Start with the square heavy loaf
steamed a whole day in a hot spring
until the coarse rye, sugar, yeast
grow dense as a black hole of bread.
Let it age and dry a little,
then soak the old loaf for a day
in warm water flavored
with raisins and lemon slices.
Boil it until it is thick as molasses.
Pour it in a flat white bowl.
Ladle a good dollop of whipped cream
to melt in its brown belly.
This soup is alive as any animal,
and the yeast and cream and rye
will sing inside you after eating
for a long time.

Reprinted from 'Playing the Black Piano,' Milkweed Editions, 2004, by permission of the author. Copyright 2004 by Bill Holm. This weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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