While the catastrophes of 2020 are spurring many people to look forward, Elaine Harootunian Reardon encourages her readers to Look Behind You.
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A homecoming, a eulogy, a celebration – Look Behind You by Elaine Harootunian Reardon is all of those things. Reardon traces her familial lineage not through a tree but rather, through the recipes passed down to her from her Turkish and Irish families. Reardon’s soft hypnosis of baking and eating, is a source of relief that is both needed and speaks to many peoples’ situation in this moment.
Confined in their homes, families have rediscovered old baking and cooking traditions and even started new ones. Families, both of blood and chosen, have had to be stronger than ever. And those individuals who have had sequester alone in small apartments far away from loved ones have had to keep “…the fire going… / to coddle the dough, / to be kind to myself.”
Cooking serves a large purpose in family life and this has been illustrated in a variety of ways from family cook books to The Big Family Cooking Showdown, but Look Behind You zeroes in on the emotional depths of these time honored recipes.
I have the recipe still, yellowed with age,
tin and tattered, like phyllo dough,
filled with handed down memories from those
who sat at this table before me – Shushan, Bedros,
Kevont, Katachador, Sitanoush cooking and eating
to honor Kharpet, our homeland no longer on the map.
Her lines course through her readers with unwavering grace. There are domestic sounds in her pieces that emit both comfort and a sadness. The shiver of crinkled paper, the strong rhythmic wobbling of a rolling pin on dough–the empty silence of ghosts around a table–all fill the air. Her work is, to put it simply, trasnportive.
While Reardon pays her respects to the past and tradition, her poetry does not allow her to become stagnant in the pool of memory. In “Assimilation” she gently reminds her readers, “We can’t recapture our / parent’s past, we can only put one foot / in front of the other, walk into our own / present…”
Published in 2019, Look Behind You is collection to combat these overwhelming times. It is a respite for readers who are surging with anxiety and fear. It is a warm kitchen with offerings of paklava and tea and softened heartbreak.
Readers interested in more of Reardon’s work can investigate her first collection, The Heart is a Nursery for Hope.