"The Soup," Gary Soto

The Soup
Gary Soto

The lights off, the clock glowing 2:10,
And Molina is at the table drawing what he thinks is soup
And its carrots rising through a gray broth.

He adds meat and peppers it with pencil markings.
The onion has gathered the peas in its smile.
The surface is blurred with the cold oils squeezed from a lime.

He adds hominy and potato that bob
In a current of pork fat, from one rim to the other,
Crashing into the celery that has canoed such a long way.

Spoon handle that is a plank an ant climbs.
Saucer that is the slipped disk of a longhorn.
Napkin that is shredded into a cupful of snow.

Comment:

2:10 looks peculiar – it looks like a Bible verse. And given the primordial meaning of the word “soup,” and the orange arising from grayness – bright order from disorder, perhaps we should look at the relevant verses from Genesis. Here is Genesis 2: 9-12 —

9 Out of the ground Yahweh God made every tree to grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it was parted, and became four heads.

11 The name of the first is Pishon: this is the one which flows through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;

12 and the gold of that land is good. There is aromatic resin and the onyx stone.

Now, notice what “Molina” is doing. He’s drawing what he thinks is soup. He’s drawing a meal, something that might satisfy him. But this meal is not a meal, the colors and textures must symbolize all sorts of stuff.

What does it mean for an onion to smile, and gather peas? I suspect the lines of the onion are like the 4 rivers, branching out, feeding the Earth, giving it the greeness of the peas. Further, note the blurring of the juice of the limes; the grey before is becoming greener, ever so slowly. Hominy and potato – gold and brown – correspond roughly to gold and resin – and the grayness of onyx could be the clearness and density of pork fat.

Now comes the twist on the Genesis story. I don’t see anything, looking forward into Chapter 2 of Genesis, that leads me to think of a canoe or celery, except the emergence of man – man is he who can canoe. But why celery?

I think celery canoeing down a river is the very subtle image of a snake. Notice how the snake emerges from the mingling of the images of man and the Creation process mingling.

And it is after this snake image, notice, that we move from the soup altogether, to those things which dispense the soup, allow it to be consumed. The sin of Eden, I think, is man claiming complete dominion, and Soto seems to be saying that such a claim was inherent in God giving dominion from the outset. Like ants, we try to get mastery over this handle that could stir the soup, but we’re really just insects that will spoil it. The disk of a longhorn is a grotesque image, suggesting that an animal was a cut up not for its meat, but for one shapely part. And finally, the napkin shredded into a cupful of snow suggests that our purity has completely gone away, as the warmth of Eden has been ecplised by our coldness, and the only thing filling the cup is the shreds of what was our dignity at Creation.

10 Comments

  1. Sorry ashok, sorry. My friend claimed he was you and confused me. So in your opinion this is free verse? i thought that – is that to do with more modern poets becoming ‘rebellious’ against traditional forms of poetry?

  2. I’m having trouble sorting this poem into meters… So far I have…

    1st stanza
    Iambic Pentameter
    Iambic octometer
    3rd im stuck on :(

    2nd stanza
    trochaic pentameter
    trochaic hexatameter
    Pyrrhic heptameter

    3rd
    trochaic pentameter
    pyrrhic heptameter
    trochaic octometer

    4th
    trochaic pentameter
    pyrrhic hexameter
    ? heptameter

    Hope you can help me!

  3. @ Raj: Ok, you guys can sort each line into a type of meter, sure. But I mean, the only reason why a teacher would have you do such a retarded thing is so you would know names of meters.

    Typically the reason why you scan things isn’t to say “this line is trochaic,” but to identify where there are changes in theme or ideas that are set off by the meter. So you would say something like “this stanza uses iambic pentameter, then the poet switches into dactylic hexameter,” and then argue the iambic lines have to do with one idea, the dactyls another.

    No one scans the same way. I can scan, but I’ll get different answers than you will, and guess what? I hate scanning.

    @ Mark: Plenty of modern poets use free verse and also write in form. I don’t know how much of a rebellion it is nowadays. Are you looking for something to write on regarding the poem? Compare it with another poem about food or one about Biblical themes.

  4. @ Mark & Raj: I know you’ve probably covered this, but don’t forget to look at obvious things like repetition. Just looking at first words of each line —

    1. What’s the significance of “And” introducing two lines in the first stanza? Are those items coordinate or subordinate in rank to the first line?

    2. “He adds” introduces two stanzas. But something very curious is happening with the first word of the last line of the 3rd stanza. There are two other words with the syntax of “crashing” above in the poem, how do they all relate?

    3. “that is” repeats three times in the final stanza, and seems to be descended from “that has” above that stanza. What’s the significance?

    Again, I know it’s obvious, and good luck trying to avoid talking about theme/meaning – I think that’s actually impossible. No one writes in order to avoid being understood.

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