Elizabeth David Poem (For Kathleen O’Rourke.)

Kathleen, who has recently died, was a fellow member of the poetry class which I attend. A retired teacher, she was already an accomplished poet, whose  Scots poem ‘Hibernation’ was one of the winners of the Commonwealth poetry competition on the theme of Slavery last year (it is published in the anthology ‘Yonder Awa’.)

The last conversation which I had with Kathleen was at the class, when she was kind enough to appreciate this poem. So it is for her.

med food

Mrs Elizabeth David

Spared the meagre gloom of wartime diets and rationed men
Miss E. Gwynne was nourished by the sun and pleasures of the Middle Sea
Seduced by the splendour of Ottoman luxury of gilded filigree

As a backdrop, the Western Desert, war and the barrages of El-Alamein
Elizabeth was enchanted by picnics on minefield beaches
And found love in mirrored bedrooms of Alexandrian mansions

Liza feasted on dinners from curtained corners with spirit stoves
With fresh market goods from across the Delta and down the verdant Nile
Leaves glistening emeralds, a salad fresh from Eden, followed by soft apricots

As fresh as new lovers in the morning, laden with amber juice in perfect velvet skins.
On return, the fruit’s girlish flesh is toughened, but its stone regains a dormant grip
And flavour’s remembrance has no choice but to force itself from her pitted heart.

The desert batterie de cuisine again roars; the blazing book jacket
Has no choice but to savour her words: “A Book of Mediterranean Food.”
Mrs David’s lobster-shells, lemon and wine bottle cocktails upturn the table-torpors

Which come to kitchens emptied, orchards unpruned, vegetable patches overgrown
When cook makes munitions, and allotment-keeper falls to conflict’s ill-favour
Her food cannot return war-lost lives and loves
But gives passionate truth of life’s pagan savour.

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