Mortar and pestle

October 17th, 2009

Last night Small Boy and Boychen were taking turns smashing crackers in my mortar and pestle – I was not cooking anything that required the mortar and pestle but they wanted to use it, so I put some crackers in for them – when Small Boy asked me which was the mortar and which was the pestle. In twenty years of using a mortar and pestle, it never occurred to me to wonder this, though somehow I knew, when I thought about it for a second, that the bowl is the mortar and the stick is the pestle. But I have never actively considered it: it has always simply been my “mortar and pestle” and I use it to make pesto and crush walnuts and grind up a masala.

But of course the Small Boy would ask: there are two words, and there are two things, and he wants to know which noun belongs to which object. He wants to know these things. And so he makes me slow down and look actively at the objects around me and name them. With precision. Which is what I am supposed to do as a poet; yet it takes a four-and-a-half year old to make me look down at my moss-green mortar and pestle set that came across the ocean with me, really look down at it, and make sure that I have a clear picture in my head of which is the mortar, and which is the pestle.

* * *

In other news, Small Boy has crafted his first couplet:
Fly away
bird of prey

He got meter and rhyme in one fell swoop.