I spend a lot of time thinking about books. Those I’m reading, those I’ve read, those I want to read. I read books about reading books. I make careful lists in an effort to pretend I’m left-brained about them (It never really works). I structure my reading life like a good dinner party, using seasonal ingredients (Russians, Germans, and Scandinavians all make fine winter entrées) and working to strike the perfect balance between heavy and light (a Babel story to follow that mammoth Laxness?, don’t mind if I do!). With all this planning, I’m always a bit thrown to stumble on something new.
And yet, to quote Carl Sandburg, “Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me,” and so it was with Elizabeth Bishop. I found her in the throes of the polar vortex, when Boston was blisteringly cold, blindingly white, and fairly unnavigable by man or beast. Well. Perhaps more accurately I found her in a thrift shop down the road during an attempt to rid myself of cabin fever by any means necessary. Let’s say it was both.
I was familiar with Bishop, but had never really spent time with any of her work, so that night, over dinner, M and I passed the book back and forth and took turns reading from it. I was enjoying it no doubt, but perhaps my garlicky-rosemary lamb chop a bit more, until I heard For C.W.B – a stunning ode to winter living.
Let us live in a lull of the long winter winds
Where the shy, silver-antlered reindeer go
On dainty hoofs with their white rabbit friends
Amidst the delicate flowering snow.
All of our thoughts will be fairer than doves.
We will live upon wedding-cake frosted with sleet.
We will build us a house from two red tablecloths
And wear scarlet mittens on both hands and feet.
Let us live in the land of the whispering trees;
Alder and aspen and poplar and birch;
Singing our prayers in a pale, sea-green breeze
With star-flower rosaries and moss blankets for church.
All of our dreams will be clearer than glass,
Clad in the water or sun as you wish,
We will watch the white feet of the young morning pass,
And dine upon honey and small shiny fish.
Let us live where the twilight lives after dark,
In the deep drowsy blue, let us make a home.
Let us meet in the cool evening grass with a stork,
And a whistle of willow played by a gnome.
Half-asleep, half-awake, we shall hear, we shall know
The soft “Miserere” the wood-swallow tolls,
We will wander away where the wild raspberries grow,
And eat them for tea from two lily-white bowls.
Inspired by the imagery of the poem, I muddled a few raspberries with some vodka and elderflower liqueur, and topped it off with some prosecco. The result was clean and elegant with a touch of sweetness, the perfect reflection of a sparkling winter day.
Makes one drink
1 ½ ounces vodka
1 ounce of elderflower liqueur, like St. Germain
3 raspberries, plus more for garnish
Muddle the raspberries in a glass with the vodka and elderflower liqueur. Strain into an ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled coupe. Top with prosecco. Garnish with raspberries.