About Kelly Lynn Thomas

I read. I write. Sometimes I sew.

Book Review: The Patron Saint of Cauliflower by Elizabeth Cohen

First, a confession: Elizabeth Cohen contacted me a few months ago and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing her new poetry collection. I really loved her short story collection, so of course I said yes. Unfortunately, I did not foresee losing Lexi at the beginning of June, or how much time I’d need to “recover”. As you can see from my publication history, I haven’t done much writing since then, even though I did read this poetry collection back in June. I finally feel like my creative batteries have recharged (though I still miss Lexi fiercely every day), so here is this very overdue review.

cover of The Patron Saint of Cauliflower

The Patron Saint of Cauliflower (Saint Julian Press, $17.50) is first and foremost a poetry collection about food, family, and the complex, multi-faceted connections between the two. The collection opens with “Goulash,” a poem about putting together a clear-out-the-fridge soup, and what’s more, a goulash that children will eat and enjoy. “I think of the insides of them, making sense of beets / and pasta, of chicken strands and slips of onion / the way each one of them will make sense someday / of snow-caked walkways, of books left out in the rain / and heartbreak, which is to say I like the way they chew,” the goulash cook muses.

It’s these moments throughout, the moments that link food (goulash) and the quotidian (slips of onion) to larger existential questions (heartbreak) that elevate the collection above and beyond simple but beautiful writing about food. Poems like “Salt” connect food and the earth with life in a visceral way. Cohen compares the taste of her child’s blood after an attempted suicide to the taste of “sour mash, of salt marsh / of all the mistakes you had ever made.” Salt can enhance flavor, and it is essential for life, but too much will turn food bitter and poison the body. So too with the every day tragedies and hardships we all face. The mother’s blame is felt in these lines as well. Whether or not it’s true, the mother feels that her mistakes have poisoned her child in some way–and no matter how good we are as parents, we always leave our children with something, some trauma.

The collection is not all doom and gloom though. Quite a few poems inject levity, such as “Pink Himalayan Salt,” in which the narrator imagines the salt’s journey from deep, dark mountain caves across the ocean on a plane, probably with a layover at JFK. Another poem acts as a sardonic ode to Cinnabons everywhere, and another personifies an artichoke, which laughs at the woman peeling it to get to the tender heart.

I’d be remiss not to mention the magical elements of The Patron Saint of Cauliflower. A series of poems about the patron saints of various foods (cauliflower, olive oil, pretzels) and spells for the right avocado and the best pesto capture the mystical aspects of shopping for food and cooking. The “Patron Saint of Cauliflower” is a princess and “the beauty queen / at the county fair.” She would make a good wedding bouquet, the narrator says. “You could cast a circle, place / her countenance in its center.” In “Spell for a Layer Cake,” the cookbook is “hallowed” and the cake “can be conjured from nothing.” The poem takes the reader through the motions of baking a cake, the flour, the eggs, the mixing, and then the “something else” of baking: the “incantation” the baker speaks over the cake like a prayer or a wish.

These poems breathe with care, with love, with life. It’s not that they elevate the realm of the domestic, it’s that they shine light on the magic already inherent in these everyday tasks.

Pick up a copy of The Patron Saint of Cauliflower from Powell’s Books!

Miss Migraine: The trouble with migraines in college part 1

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 29, 2012. I wanted to re-post this series now, in hopes that it will help anyone getting ready to head off to college for the first time, or going back to college. College is hard enough without migraines!

The trouble with migraines in college

During a journalism class my senior year of undergraduate work, my professor — we’ll call her “C” — held individual meetings with us about the work we’d done so far and any concerns we had for the rest of the semester.

For the past month or so, I had been seeing a doctor at the on-campus health center once per week for my never-ending head pain and visiting a chiropractor three times per week for the same reason. I was scared by the constant headache that had nestled itself in my temples, and my course work — 15 credits and a graduate level thesis to write, present, and defend — daunted me. So far, neither the doctor nor the chiropractor had been able to put a dent in my pain.

I explained my situation to C and expressed my concerns for the final research project that made up a majority of our final grade, as it was due around the same time as my thesis project. C reassured me, told me that so far, my work had been great. I’d be fine.

American flag waving in front of the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh

The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh, where I completed my undergraduate degree.

But the pain increased. A trip to the ER left me feeling more miserable and more out of control than I had before when the doctor, after pressing incredibly hard on the tendons on the back of my neck and asking if it hurt (yes, it freaking hurt, he was using Superman strength!), declaring my never-ending pain a stress headache, and prescribing Valium (which did nothing more than make me loopy and sleepy).

A friend had to buy my groceries so I didn’t have to spend a fortune on delivery — a fortune I needed for my medical expenses. Since I had one professor who didn’t complain about me missing class because I was a senior in a class of freshman and sophomores and earning an A, I often missed one of two class sessions per week to rest and attempt to catch up with all the work I’d fallen behind on.

As an unnecessary-for-graduation elective, C’s journalism class fell to the bottom of my priorities list. I realized while doing my research for the final paper that I simply did not have the energy to finish it on time. By now I was seeing a neurologist and trying Topomax, which was expensive and left food tasting strange. I had endless doctor’s notes. So I asked for an extension of the final deadline, several weeks in advance of said deadline.

C refused the extension. Upon reading her harshly worded email about her strict policy of no extensions, because that’s not how the “real world” works and a newspaper editor would never give an extension, a mix of frustration, despair, and anguish filled my body with heat. I had never turned an assignment in late. I had never been late for class. I had a high grade. I had medical documentation. I was furious. I immediately lost all respect for C.

Rather than fail a class and ruin my 3.8 GPA because of a cruel professor who refused to acknowledge the pain I was in (or that I had mentioned my concerns about this very topic to her weeks ago), I responded to her email with my intentions to withdraw from the class, because, I explained, I was simply unable to complete the work within her required timeline.

I filled out the necessary paperwork and delivered it to her for her signature. It became clear to her that I was serious — not simply playing for a free ride — and she relented, but not without an incredible amount of pressure for me to finish the research paper as quickly as possible — something I’d already explained was not possible at all. I did finish the paper, and the class, but I didn’t have very nice things to say about C in my end of term evaluation.

Have you had migraine-related trouble with your professors? How did you cope with it?

Miss Migraine Runs: Wrap-Up

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. June was National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, and I ran as part of the Miles for Migraine Virtual Challenge to raise money for migraine research. Read parts one and two.

Ten of you fantastic people helped me raise more than $400 for migraine research in June! I will be sending you all cards, but in the meantime, thank you! Overall, Miles for Migraine was able to raise $3,500—quite a bit short of the $10k goal, but still nothing to sneeze at.

While my original plan was to train in June and July and run a 5k in August, that bought of runner’s knee I experienced mid-June delayed our progress quite a bit. Our new plan is to train through September and run the Miles for Migraine 5k race in Philadelphia on October 6.

A brain hat, a race medal, and a pair of socks with the Miles for Migraine logo.

Unfortunately, runner’s knee is not the only setback I’ve dealt with so far. I also had trouble getting past the third training week workout because of my asthma, which would kick in around the 2 minutes of running mark and leave me wheezing and gasping for air. My doctor gave me a new inhaler, which I use about 20 minutes prior to each run and helps significantly.

I’m not yet tracking how many miles I run, as I’m still focusing on time spent running. Again, my progress hasn’t been as quick as I’d have hoped, but the important thing is that D.J. and I have stuck with our three-runs-per-week regimen since late May, with the exception of the weeks in June I had to use the elliptical instead of running.

Something else that’s interesting is the way the connection between my migraines and exercise has changed. A workout can still trigger a migraine, especially if the weather is bad or I’m already on the edge of one, but for the most part, running hasn’t caused any migraines. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s helped keep them at bay. I feel significantly better after a run, and have been generally less migrainey the past two months than the months prior. Now, I feel crappy if I have to miss a run–D.J. and I have even woken up at 5 a.m. multiple times to get our run in before he has to go to work!

Most importantly, though, Miles for Migraine sent me this cool brain hat and a medal, which clearly means I win, right? ;p

Again, thank you all for supporting me, donating money to this important cause, and spreading migraine awareness!