1078: Ferment by Monica Rico

20240320 Slowdown

1078: Ferment by Monica Rico


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

There’s nothing like family to keep you in check, lest your head gets too big, or you forget from whence you came, or in case you thought all the book learning made you somehow magically better than everyone else you grew up with or who gave you love. A crime I never committed because my family wouldn’t permit it.

I thank them for their lessons of humility and modesty, even if, at times, their barbs felt, when I was younger, targeted, meant to hurt a bit. I know their teasing, sometimes their reprimands, came from what they felt to be a little unfairness in the cosmos. To bring me down a few pegs, my grandfather’s favorite admonishment was “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know.” Another family member would tease, “All that book learning and you still don’t know how to __________.”

What is true, however, is that I am addicted to the vast knowledge of the world, to instructions, to learning the “right way.” I am quick to run to a book. I do all kinds of research before launching into a project. I am a deep diver. For an 8,000-word commissioned article — that I’ve yet to write — on the first Black celebrity cyclist also named Major, Major Taylor, I read three biographies.

When writing poems and essays, I saturate my brain, when in fact, I should instead let intuition and a meandering knowing take over. There is something in the old-time folk wisdom, in what some used to call “common sense,” that which cannot be learned in a book, but arrives from the sweet streets of living.

As a person who sticks to the recipe, step by step, exact measurements and all, I appreciate how today’s poem lifts up the magic of feeling and improvisation, of putting one’s whole body into a task.

by Monica Rico

First, imagine your grandmother
who loved bread telling you not
to get caught up in the exactness

of the recipe which will go
against what the chef taught you 
when you were trying to measure

.3 grams, a sixteenth of a teaspoon,
and you thought this is a pinch
as you lifted and replaced each

weight on the scale. Behind you 
the dough smelled ripe like beer
in those early mornings of baking school

the machines getting lost
in fold after fold, the ribbon arm of dough
flexible as a twist tie. It is the repetitive motion
that keeps you alive—sardines, a glass of champagne,

falling asleep at 3 PM after work in your whites
forgetting to dot the galaxy of raspberry spit
in Morse code across your sleeves. The boule

round, pulled taught, flexed like flesh and muscle—
holy and alive with breath or excess
expanding like the universe but in your hands

an illusion of control. It’s ok not to time 
the kneading. Best to do it until you begin to
tire because the dough responds to this

it likes the gentle heat of your hands
the pull, tuck, and snap of applause—
years gone by and yet here you are

somehow, flour on the counter, flour on the floor,
small scabs of dough mark your palms and you 
are both elastic and everything.

“Ferment” by Monica Rico from PINION © 2024 Monica Rico. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books