Monday, July 11, 2011

Pronounced “konjing” in chocolate manufacturing.

Warm chocolate blends
in a giant vat—a conche,
large paddles slowly turning.

From the Spanish concha,
shell of the tropical sea snail.
Hot Chicago summers, my father

as a boy dumped cocoa liquor
into steaming upstairs batch
tanks in his father’s factory.

No labor spared in learning
the cost of chocolate making.
Rodolphe Lindt, inventor,

early chocolatier, built his
factory in Bern. One night
in 1879, he forgot to close down

a shell-shaped conche—his own
invention. It rolled and mixed
till his return next morning.

Dismayed, he tasted
the agitated chocolate and found
a creamy smoothness, new

complexity. Aeration, friction,
polishing—three days of constant
turning drives off the bitter

volatiles, like the conch shell
blown by Hindu heroes
on the battlefield, their mighty

horns atomizing enemies.
And though he tried, my grandfather
could not drive the softness

from the center of his son’s soul.
Once, on the telephone, my father,
mellowed by painkillers, told me how,

afloat on a Navy boat during
the Korean War, waiting for codes
to break on the late shift, he read

Leaves of Grass, Browning, Frost.
That is how I want to think
of him, some salvaged part still

floating in Whitman.
But he had to shut it
down, go numb, under

the day-and-night agitation
of my grandfather’s
toughening. Sad boy

with golden hair, too tender,
grew a horny foot
and sealed himself inside

the strange, spiraling
chamber of yet
another shell.


Friday, July 1, 2011