Eating the Sun

EATING THE SUN: Charles Rammelkamp considers a multi-faceted book, embracing Poetry, Memoir & Recipes, composed by Rachael Ikins

Eating the Sun
Racel Ikins
Clare Songbirds Publishing, 2020
ISBN: 978-1947653580
106 pages       $14.99

Subtitled “a delicious love story,” Rachael Ikins’ Eating the Sun combines memoir, poetry and recipes to cook up a compelling story of lifelong devotion – two people to each other and to a simple, healthful lifestyle. The book is constructed around the cycle of the seasons. Each section – “Spring,” “Summer,” “Autumn,” “Winter” – starts with a prose narrative about her life, principally with Philip but also growing up in upstate New York, then follows with seasonally themed poems and recipes (zucchini and pumpkin in autumn, for example, winter goulash and pizza in winter). The whole book is illustrated with photographs of people, places and Ikins’ paintings.

The poems carefully fit the season in which they appear. “Spring Solstice” and the title poem, “Eating the Sun,” are featured in the “Spring” section. “Eating the Sun,” a poem about warmth in all its senses, begins:

Cheeks against your own
alive with warmth. So real you expect 
what you hold to twist in your hand 
like a kitten or a baby.

The poems in “Summer” include “On Picking Tomatoes During the Eclipse,” “The Gardener,” “The Berry Pickers” and the glorious celebration of the garden’s bounty, “Food Porn” which begins

Grilled peaches’ heat melts 
goat cheese stuffing, drizzled 
honey, a dash of cinnamon

and then continues a few verses later:

Avocados’ smiling cream, one sprouted pit, a free tree fingers 
July sunlight, mushrooms sautéed 
brown/blackness, crackle on the tongue, tenderloin juices, fillet as pink
as sunset summer sky.

“As Summer Falls Away,” “Late October“ (“Dawn wakes with its eyes closed. / Fists of wind scrub leaves’ color / from naked trees. Autumn silence.”), “Pumpkin Vines” are among the poems in the “Autumn” section. “Blizzard Magic,” “Polar Vortex” and “Prelude to Winter” (“Coyotes ululating to half moon, toad a fisted prayer on a windowsill”) are titles in the “Winter” section.

But it’s the love story that anchors and animates the book. In a sense, the pairing is “star-crossed,” as one back-cover blurb describes it, Philip being thirty years Rachael’s senior; but the marriage lasts almost a quarter of a century before Philip’s death, longer than many, and by Rachael’s account it is a coup de foudre, love at first sight. Philip is a thoracic surgeon, and they meet when Rachel is his patient. As she tells it, he literally touches her heart when he removes a cyst from her lung.

Inevitably, there are problems along the way, some financial, others health-related (heart disease, cancer) as Philip enters his eighties, conflicts with family members, but as Rachael reflects,

When I was a young woman, I told my mother, staring over the counter 
into  her eyes  while  she made egg salad,  that as far as  romance was 
concerned, I was holding out for the Big One, the fireworks, the magic, 
the  fairytale  and  happily-ever-after.  It took   years of  suffering  and 
numerous mistakes for me to realize that I had been blessed to have just 
that. While our time together was less than some couples, there were years 
of pure joy, and although we have been separated by circumstance and 
death, the love we created together lives.

An initial section entitled “Before Spring” includes a poem about her mother’s cookbooks – Fanny Farmer, Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, Julia Child – and sets the tone of food and family. The delightful poem, “Memorial” begins:

It is the second-best time
	of spring, early June
when the poppies and peonies
nod to one another,

blowsy old whores discussing
young men’s juices
over a garden gate.

Like “Before Spring,” a final section entitled “Love Endures,” bookends the cycle of the seasons. In this concluding section, Ikins recounts an encounter with a neighbor the year after her husband’s death. They are both collecting their mail from the apartment complex mailroom. She has just won an award for a painting that appears in a literary journal, and she is proud to show the stranger. The gentleman notices her name and asks her if she is by any chance related to Philip Ikins. He had known Philip when he was an operating room technician and her husband was a surgeon. “I loved that man,” he tells her. She writes:

Goosebumps rose on my arms and neck. For all the self-doubt and
 disasters along the way, he was the only person who never stopped 
believing in me from the first poem he read.

Until we meet again.

Indeed, part of Ikins’ life story in Eating the Sun is her career as an artist and poet the encouragement and inspiration she receives from her husband. The final poem, “Question,” written 8 years after his death, recounts one of those waking-up experiences we all have, locked in a dream that seems as real as wish-fulfillment, our dead still with us. Philip is alive and she asks him to feed the cats and let the dogs out. She addresses her husband in the poem, speaking to him in the present tense. He seems so alive!

No dream,
real as the sweating blush
of shag-bark maple leaves,
the pink spread of ivy that carpets
the woods opposite the lake….

Eating the Sun is both a tribute and an inspiration. Love endures.