Tidal Basin

Germination Detail Part III, by Leslie Shellow

contemplations about what stays in the net

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Saffron Substitution

You suggested turmeric because its beauty was rooted. I thought of saffron because it’s reckless like a flirt, and expensive. You said, “Make a list of pros and cons. How about you start with turmeric?” You added, “Be fair.”  

I am writing about the aspects of turmeric, though I admit it’s saffron that’s got me thinking. Turmeric is a relative of gingerroot. Its skin isn’t silky like ginger’s; instead, Turmeric wears a shaggy brown coat; practical. Sliced open, however, the most delightfully deep orange saturates the eyes. That’s not a con, is it? Hiding your true colors?
An anchor, a support system, stable; a root is optimistic while other parts of the plant tend to sway and lift off. One can never say a root is ungrounded.
Turmeric is the color of mustard custard. When eaten, turmeric is an anti-inflammatory, a digestive aide, an antivenin for the King Cobra snake (someone’s got to do it), and a sunscreen. Turmeric, being a root, rooted, rooting, draws nutrients and water from the soil and offers them freely to the rest of its body. Turmeric is generous like the sun. Most things that are yellow and orange are that way; they just usually want something back in return. Turmeric is a healthy plant from the forests of South Asia which are warm and wet, so its roots must be boiled and dried and mashed; no, ground; no, crushed; no, destroyed; no, obliterated into a powder in order to make them useful. In its multi-step death, it becomes a dye.
Saffron sounds like silk sheets rustling. Saffron comes from the female sex organs (called “stigmas,” can you believe it?) of a purple crocus that only blooms in fall. Late bloomers keep the world hopeful. Saffron is from Spain. It waves its fire-stained stigmas like a flamenco dancer’s dress, which is really a matador’s red cape in disguise. But Wikipedia says, “Bulls are blind. The cape is just for show.” That’s their job, to subtract meaning and add knowledge. When consumed, saffron provokes sweats, like eating fire. Snacked in abundance, saffron can induce menstruation and even abortion. A sex organ induces abortion?
The stigmas of saffron come in three’s: father, son, and the holy ghost; Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva; you, me, and what grows between us in my womb. There are only three stigmas; three delicate and filamentous tentacles to get stuck on if you’re pollen. Each stigma must be hand-picked, dried, and slightly fermented. It takes 14,000 stigmas to produce one ounce of something worth using. That is why they cost a fortune. Like gold; like wealth; like a vein of something that runs too deep to discover in one day. A little goes a long way.
You’ve left to do some work. You said you’d check in on me later so I could let you know what I’ve decided.
This recipe calls for turmeric, but I am making a substitution. Saffron for turmeric. Stigma for root. Sex for nourishment. What difference will it make in the end? Both are the color of forging heat, the ideal temperature at which wrought iron melts and acquiesces. Both are the color of alchemy and change. Both are the shade of Slow Down and Warning. Both are the hue of waiting for a lover to return. Tie a turmeric ribbon around the old oak tree. Change that to saffron. Substitute that with me waiting for you. If I offer you three chances to stick to my stigmas, will what we trump up be the color of a cloud pregnant with the last rays of the sun? If you dissolve when I touch you and melt onto my skin only to wash deep yellow into my laundry, will my clothing still bleed when it thinks of you?
You say you’ll marry me because I’m pregnant. You are good at settling…down.
I am writing a recipe of substitutions. Saffron for turmeric. Stigma for root. Sex for nourishment. But I’ll take anything you’ve got.

 Published in The Pitkin Review, Spring 2010, Goddard College MFA Students

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