Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Caramel by John McCullough

Weigh, measure, dissolve. Learn the dialects
of sugar. Make sweets hard, harder,
hardest. Wring colours—red from cochineal,
green from scalded beet leaves. Inhabit six degrees
of boiling: thread, pearled, blown, feathered,
cracked, caramel. Elevate yourself
to the baron’s house―a carved orange at the apex
of a pyramid of salvers. Loathe the cost
of ingredients. Mr Platt the footman cannot
be trusted. Ginger is delivered to a secret door,
to Miss Crosby’s hands. Use your tongue
to gauge success. Craft a Battenberg house
just for servants, for two. Find small, firm tears
naturally in cane. Keep finding them
for years. Detect a bad taste instead.
Live there but not for long, not for too long clearly.
Plan a wedding centrepiece. Glass fountains,
tulips cut with the point of a knife. Hover
at the work surface, ready and not ready,
staggering, clutching your chest. Remember it.
Remember everything these hands have done
and not done while you stand there
and gasp. Weigh, measure, dissolve.

John McCullough’s first collection of poems The Frost Fairs (Salt) won the Polari First Book Prize for 2012. It was a Book of the Year for both The Independent and The Poetry School, and a summer read for The Observer. He lives in Hove, and teaches creative writing for the Open University and New Writing South.

John says this poem was inspired by the September 18 episode on puddings last year, which saw Sue Perkins finding out about cabinet puddings and the showstopper cakes made by confectioners who actually lived in nobles’ houses.

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