A Modern Fable
by Daniel Grego
look instead to the work
of patient detail.
consider the art of persuasive essay kneading dough.
your fingers caressing the http://usbsolarlights.com/ living yeast.
your arms shaping an hour’s peace.
imagine the smell of baking bread!
from “On the Incitement of Revolution” in
One Winter Night: Collected Poems 1966-1996
by daniel grego
The seventh day was full of both loveliness and majesty – an object of awe, attention and love.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
When I was a boy, Sunday was a day of mystery, ritual, and renunciation. All commerce came to a stop. Our family went to church in our “Sunday best.” The Roman Catholic mass, still in Latin, was an elaborately choreographed and costumed gathering of the faithful. This was followed at our house by a large breakfast of bacon and eggs and toast and sweet rolls. The remainder of the day was devoted to reading and reflection and rest. (This is what the word “Sabbath” means, of course. Rest.)
I no longer attend church except for weddings and funerals. But, Sundays are still special days in my family. We still read and reflect and rest. What I love most of all about our ritual is the communion with friends. Nearly every Sunday, friends and neighbors gather at our house for a delicious meal, wine, and conversation. The food is locally grown and prepared carefully and slowly. Everyone pitches in.
Sometimes, I make bread. I have made different kinds, but Irish soda bread lately has become my specialty. Recently, I decided to make some for an evening’s celebration. It was Palm Sunday, the first Sunday after the vernal equinox. We prayed that the sky would be clear that night because if it were, the comet, Hale-Bopp, would be visible after sunset in the northwest. It would be a mere one hundred twenty-two million miles from earth. And then, there would be a nearly total eclipse of the full moon. Certainly, this promised to be an awe inspiring night, a good night to share with close friends.
I set out on the counter in the kitchen the ingredients for the soda bread:
two cups of flour, two tablespoons of brown sugar, one and half teaspoons of baking power, half a teaspoon of baking soda, a pinch of salt, two tablespoons of unsalted butter, a little more than three quarters of a cup of buttermilk, and half a cup of currants.
I blended the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a ceramic bowl, cut in the butter, and then stirred in the buttermilk. After adding the currants, I began to knead the dough on a large wooden cutting board I had dusted with flour. I thought of my poem, “On the Incitement of Revolution.” I tried to follow my own advice. I tried to caress the dough with my fingers and to shape an hour’s peace.
Then, the phone rang. No one else was in the house. My hands were sticky with the dough. “Should I just let it ring?” I wondered. Well, my parents sometimes called on Sunday fromFlorida. The phone rang again. Maybe there was important news. Maybe a neighbor was having trouble and needed my help. The phone rang again. I left the dough on the cutting board, wiped my hands with a towel, and picked up the receiver.
“Hello,” I said.
No one responded. All I could hear was a machine of some kind humming.
“Hello,” I said again. But, there was no answer.
I hung up the phone. “That’s strange,” I thought. “I wonder who that could have been.”
I decided to wash my hands before returning to the soda bread. Just as I was about to get back to work, back to my caressing, the phone rang again. I picked it up after the first ring this time.
“Hello,” I said.
This time a woman answered. “Hello,” she said. “May I speak with a Daniel Greeego?” She asked mispronouncing my last name. Clearly, this was not someone who knew me.
“This is he,” I said.
“Mr. Greeego, my name is Lotta Sales,” she began to read her scripted pitch. Her voice had a strong nasal quality and a bit of aNew Yorkaccent. “I’m calling for Chase Manhattan Bank. You have been preapproved for a Chase Gold Card…”
While she droned on, I realized what had happened. I had heard of the telemarketing technique of a computer calling six or seven numbers simultaneously. The solicitor is connected to the first person who answers. The other numbers keep ringing, however, and if someone picks up on the other lines, the computer notes this. When the first solicitation is finished, the computer redials numbers of anyone who answered.
“Miss,” I interrupted her, “Have you ever considered that what you’re doing is immoral?”
“Mr. Greeego, the Chase gold card is honored at stores all over the world and…”
“No. You don’t understand.” I said. “I answered the phone because I thought it might have been someone in my family or a friend who needed help of some kind.”
“Mr. Greeego, your Chase gold card would have no annual fee and is fully insured if lost or stolen…”
“Lotta, please slow down a minute and think about what you’re doing. You are calling people you don’t know, on a Sunday no less, to sell them something they don’t need and haven’t asked for. Have you ever considered that this is immoral?”
“Mr. Greeego, the Chase gold card…”
“I’m not interested in your offer.”
“But, Mr. Greeego,” she went back to her script, “The Chase gold card has the lowest interest rate of any major credit card…”
“Lotta, I’m not interested,” I said finally and hung up.
I washed my hands again, finished kneading the dough, shaped it into a circle with a diameter of about seven inches, cut a cross into the top of the loaf, centered it in a greased cake pan, and slid it into the oven to bake at 3750 for about forty minutes.
We had a grand meal that night. The sky was clear. Hale-Bopp trailed its tail across Cassiopeia. The full moon rose over an open field and by eleven p.m. over ninety per cent of it was obscured by the earth’s shadow.
We built a fire in the fire pit to keep warm as we stood out under the stars, told stories and jokes, and opened ourselves to the mystery of it all.
And all the while, somewhere in the world, a computer was dialing people who got out of bed, or who ran dripping wet from the shower, or who interrupted their dinners, or who left the bedside of a sick child to answer the phone and hear the sound of a machine humming.
Daniel Grego is Executive Director of the TransCenter for Youth, Inc. in Milwaukee