Kelley Jean White: Sugar Beats

Is maple sugar unusual enough? The real stuff not aunt
Jemima? Who ought to remind us of the Indies, west,
of cane firing the night and charring the limbs of little children
set to stir—white sugar, that a good Quaker would not eat—I’ve forgotten
his name, I, never Quaker enough to cease up sweet confection, —nor the dyeing
of clothing, Woolman, John Woolman, who walked bravely into the 1750
forest primeval to greet in peace First Nations, and walked brave through gates
of plantations to asked his brothers to give up their slaves.

I never know if this is the 20th or 21stcentury, was used to getting away
with 1800s, 1700s, 1900s, but twenty hundreds won’t work, but into whatever
this century is I walk, spavine and spigot and spiel—and turn my father’s great drill
again through the thickness of our patient great tree, tap tap, hang
the bucket, tilt this little tin lid against twigs and tiny insects falling
in the sap. My father’s drill holes scar the tree two feet higher
than my dust today. Still oozing sweet tracks in April.

His drill, I’ve left rusty. Hung on a hook in the last stall of the once
was a cow shed. I’ve never climbed to that loft overhead, those hooks and broad
beams suspended, don’t know what has been left all those years above me,
just the rope and the ladder, here and now, swinging, this little town, this piece
of my mind forgetting boiling broiling sweetness. See how we squeeze
the syrup through cheesecloth, how a touch of butter from the wooden spoon takes
away the froth? See me sleeping in the hired man’s room, rising
each hour to pour and stir, add more, pour, stirring at dawn
to bring in the buckets empty into the vats, set again to catch

the drip drip drip speeding up through the warming day. Amber. Light amber. Dark amber, each a different
taste stirring into your coffee, on your tongue. Can you taste the little burn scars on my fingers. Maple.
Cain. Or perhaps beets? See Woolman

sitting down crosslegged on fern and pine boughs. He tastes this on corn
bread. Nods to a companion in buckskin. We dip in our fingers. Sweet.
Sweeter. More sweet.

      Reputed-to-be-oldest maple sugar production site in the world on the Bolduc farm, Gilford NH. Photograph by Kelley Jean White.

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