“Two Dispatches from Lascassas, Tennessee” by Gaylord Brewer

cactus orchid brewer
Cactus Orchid, Gaylord Brewer

Advice on Weeding in Face of a Virus Pandemic and Plummeting World Markets

—for Chauncey Gardiner

Any month can be a cruel month. Perhaps the sure future of two weeks ago lies in ruin. In the garden, you live season by season. If you prayed for March to arrive, its early blooms, then your prayer has been answered. The garden gone to seed must be tended. Perhaps this is not your fault, perhaps no one’s, but whose responsibility now if not yours? The abandoned garden cannot be reclaimed in a day. Get on your knees beside the pathway. Give your hands to the dirt. Last year’s hyacinths are thin in flower, but flagrant, deeply violet, deeply blue. Weeding demands judgment, force mediated with care. You must not destroy the beauty you dedicated to reveal. Some choices are easy. The small blue bells of the grape hyacinth, spreading each year in undaunted clumps. Consider, though, the tiny white Stars-of-Bethlehem: intrusions, or to be granted their fragile existence? Moment by moment, the gardener must decide. Rootedness or extraction. To nurture or banish. Take your time. Stay your course. More hard weather is forecast, but the moment is bright and clear and the breeze pleasant. The clusters of crocuses you planted only a month ago, absurdly, disregarding all instruction, all science of their germination? Well, see green tendrils churning soil, the white bulb of a first flower enclosing its golden stamen. The garden will break your heart every time, but all is not lost. Move from stone to stone, bent to your labor. Belief is not required. Hope is not required. Clear one modest space of all but what belongs. To work in the garden is an act of faith. Your task will not be finished in a day. It will never be finished. Strive only for the simple achievement of the hour, noticed by no one. A revelation of space, balance, and form in a cosmos of inches. Restoration is reverence. The earth listens. So many elements the gardener cannot control, only a fool would continue. Submit to this humbling fate. Control is illusion, and that too is a gift. If you’re not careful, you may look up into the open sky and feel happy.

March 12, 2020


cactus slw


                                  Panic Baking at the End of the World: Upside-Down Cake                                      with Rum and Fresh Pineapple


Let us go to our fate with a fête of sweet fat, sugar, and salt. Of celebration on the tongue and nostalgia in the heart. Of knives, alchemy, and heat. Here is our recipe.

  1. Take the last pineapple from Costa Rica and, with calming strokes, skin and core the fruit with the widest blade, separate armor from tender flesh. Cut into the thick wedges you will need to form your mosaic.
  2. Take the last eggs and rich butter from the local farmer, purchased in an open field at the last Saturday market. Take a careful measure of the last artisan flour. Take the final small pleasures of the earth we came to believe we deserved.
  3. Take the last cups of brown and white sugar, the last teaspoons of sea salt and pungent vanilla. The last tart buttermilk.
  4. Take the last bottle of white Bacardi capped in Puerto Rico and break the seal. Be generous with your pour.
  5. This is a modest cake, a cake of international devotions, cake of diaspora, cake of the world’s last harvest, of dance, of slaughter, of savory and sweet, of tears and joy and fear and praise, sacrament and failure, of recognition too late.
  6. A cake of layers. The soft butter spread thick in the pan. The sprinkling of the dark sugar, and nestled into it our arrangement of the succulent yellow fruit. Take your time. Create a tight pattern, one that pleases, a surface patchwork yet nearly whole. Spoon over with the unctuous batter until all is covered.
  7. On this last night, as the power wanes, bake in a last hot oven until firm and golden and too beautiful to now exist. Remove with care.

That maddening fragrance overwhelming the house. My God. Close your eyes. Breathe. Everything we lived for and thought would last forever. Let it cool. Let it cool. Then invert. You see? Right side up, after all. As it was meant to be. No need for panic. And a last slice for each of us, on our prettiest dishes, by candlelight on this very special night.

–March 28, 2020



Gaylord Brewer is a professor at Middle Tennessee State University, where he has taught since 1993. His most recent books are the cookbook/memoir The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire and the poetry collection The Feral Condition. His new book of poems, his eleventh, is Worship the Pig (Red Hen Press, June 2020).