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Christopher and Helen, our new expatriate friends, meet us at their favorite winery where they fill their plastic jerry cans from hoses exactly like the ones at gas stations, as though they were planning to go back home to Aix and treat their lawnmower to a nice red. Instead, they take us in their forest green Peugeot to the home of their old friend Brigitte in a village at the foot of Mont Ventoux— actually, not a village, Brigitte corrects me, but "un hameau," a hamlet. The French are exacting about such distinctions, but Brigitte has a kind, mischievous smile. Back in the car, we tear along a series of rutted, stony roads that web the mountainside, with Brigitte directing Christopher, "à droite, à gauche, encore à gauche," until we come to a grove of pines, cedars, and oaks, where she says the mushrooms are hidden. We fan out under the trees, searching the slope, while Brigitte, looking elfin in her orange hoodie, waves a stick like a wand, pokes at the dried pine needles or the dead leaves under the wild boxwood bushes, and sings, "I think there are some over here," like a mother leading her toddlers toward the Easter eggs. We laugh and follow after her, cutting the stems with a tarnished knife she lends us, warning "Faites attention," because the blade is sharp. And gradually we fill our plastic shopping bags with gnarled orange caps, stained green, which, much later, back in the States, I learn are called Lactarius deliciosus or orange-latex milky, like a shade of paint, the field guide commenting "edible, although not as good as the name deliciosus suggests"— but we already suspect that (they look awful), and we will later unload most of ours on Christopher and Helen who clearly think of them as a delicacy… but right now we're having fun just hunting for them among the sunspots on the forest floor, filling our bags, and shouting through the trees to one another, the whole afternoon gathering into the giddy moment that Brigitte keeps calling us back to—and it's delicious.
"This poem tries to enact the communal exhilaration of a day spent with new friends in the south of France. It felt as if we were a family for one day, and as the foreign visitors being taken on an expedition to a secret mushroom-gathering spot, my wife and I naturally took on the role of the children. I was recently reminded of Philip Larkin's idea of poems as acts of preservation, and I think I was moved to write this poem because I felt there was something special I wanted to hold on to. Like all poems, this one takes on its own shape, language, and metaphors that do not correspond exactly to the day, but hopefully help to preserve some part of it." —Jeffrey Harrison
Jeffrey Harrison is the author of Into Daylight (Tupelo Press, 2014). He lives in Dover, Massachusetts.
"Elegant Shrimp in Champagne Sauce" by Suzette Marie Bishop
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