Work with Cabbage

by Susan Barnard

Winner of the 2006 William Soutar Writing Prize

Heft a cabbage axed from ravelled roots
on to a chopping board marked with use.
Snap off and discard the scabbed remains
of summer’s first leafing. Twist the point
of a knife into the sturdy central column
to separate the larger outer leaves.
Spread each leaf firmly against a flat surface.
Hold a thin bright blade close to the dense white
curve of a central rib, flatten and fillet it.
Slice flesh, pale as polished jade, finely
then pack its wounds in salt.

Strip small leaves of bitter herbs from pliant stems.
Warm them with a rounded teaspoon of spice seeds
in the cup of your palm and stroke the mixture
across the surface of the slackening mass.
Lift and fold your hands in a rhythm of prayer
then seal it in a crazed pot. Leave it to seethe.
Taste it drained and trailed through oil.

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