The Way of the Dishes

Today I followed the 
Way of the Dishes.
From Kinvara to Keelhilla 
along the greasy road.

The dishes flew before me.
Cups, plates and bottles of
red wine, a joint of beef,
stewed leeks and white 
bread, sliced for eating.

I could see them floating
just ahead, set upon a white
cloth. I could see the flap of 
it, rising to cross a hedge
like a flat fish swimming 
through clear water and 
me beneath like a small 
sprat following.

To follow was not easy. The
dishes rode across country,
taking hedges and ditches on
their white wings, while I was 
trapped by my car and the 
narrow ways of men. I had 
to turn corners and guess at 
my final destination.

I saw the dishes fly to a 
cliff face and drop behind 
bare branches, hazel and ash.

I parked the car and found the 
cloth come to ground, 
embroidered hem fluttering 
by the saint’s bed. A heap
of fallen stone.

The saint was a lean man. 
He picked at the beef and 
poured salt over the leeks, 
lest he be tempted.
He tossed his bread to the 
sparrows and foreswore 
the red wine, preferring 
water from his blessed spring.

But his servant gnawed the bones
bare and spread good butter on his 
bread. He drank his wine, thanking
whatever power it was that had 
sent cloth and dishes, whatever 
white hand it was that cooked 
this food, and the kindly air that 
carried it.

I watched from behind a tree as he
feasted while his master picked and 
prayed. I watched his belly swell. I
heard him groan as his starved guts

Within the hour he will be dead and 
buried under a heap of stone. 
While the saint will live, 
revered by all for his restraint.

And the feast will grow mould, 
the white cloth will rot and the
wine will turn to vinegar in 
a tarnished cup.

Fiona Farrell is a novelist and poet who lives on Banks Peninsula. The Pop-Up Book of Invasions, published by Auckland University Press (2007),  is her third collection and was written while she was living in Donoughmore, Ireland as the recipient of the inaugural Rathcoola Residency in 2006.

Farrell comments: ‘I found “The Way of the Dishes” marked on a map when I was visiting the Burren in the winter of 2006. It referred to the miraculous arrival of an Easter feast which flew from a king’s table miles away to land beside a hermit saint, living with his servant in wild country. The legend is pretty much as recounted in the poem: the feast arrived, the saint picked, but the servant pigged out and died. I visited the site in heavy fog, picking my way over limestone flags through long grass and cow pasture. It felt very still and beautiful and eerie.

I wanted to write about that and about the feeling that all those legends of asceticism arouse in me. I don’t like excess:the new flash New Zealand of luxury this and that, thousands spent on a meal or light fittings or a bed for the night. But its opposite—that revulsion at the flesh that is at the root of so much religious theory and practice—repels me equally.’

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file
Auckland University Press author profile
nzepc—New Zealand Electronic Text Centre:online work
Best New Zealand Poems 2003 and 2005