Poem of the Week

With Such Wonder, Who Needs Cake?

Does Ronny Someck dismiss the charms of patisserie?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Shemo Bakery, Judah Maccabee branch

Ronny Someck

The salesgirl at the bakeshop
has dyed the ends of her tresses
with yellow white black borrowed
from the body of a leopardess.

Who needs cake.

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden

Alon Ron

In just four lines, Ronny Someck confects a many-layered vignette.

Judah Maccabee is a street in an upscale neighborhood of north Tel Aviv, named for the hero of the Hanukkah story. Suddenly a prosaic street address whisks us backwards in history to “those days, at this time,” in the words of one of the blessings over the Hanukkah candles.

The Shemo bakery belongs to a national chain – but this is not an advertisement. The point is that the banal, commercial location is the setting for something if not miraculous, then at least out of the ordinary.

Not the array of baked goods but rather the salesgirl is the extraordinary sight, a near-sphinx, part human, part wild feline. She suggests a lithe and colorful sensuality, echoing the decorative aspects but belying less salubrious properties of the products she sells.

Perhaps the man distracted by jungle thoughts has come into the shop to buy pastry for family or guests. Perhaps he is going visiting and feels the need to “bring a little something” or perhaps he is there to order a cake for a birthday or a wedding.

At this time of year, though, most bakery stops are for the Hanukkah treat sufganiyot, which are called doughnuts in Britain and on the east and west coasts of North America, bismarcks in the Midwest, beignets in Louisiana and France and bombolini in Italy. The deep-fried treats are Berliners in some parts of Germany, while in Berlin itself they are Pfankuchen, not to be confused with pancakes of any stripe.

When told that peasants have no bread to eat, Marie Antoinette supposedly riposted: “Let them eat cake” (brioche, actually). Apparently, though, Jean-Jacques Rousseau coined the phrase well before she became the last Queen of France. In any case, the idea is that bread is a necessity whereas cake is frivolous. Or is it?

Here, “Who needs cake” is not punctuated as a question. Everyone needs cake. Any life worth living has fleeting bits of sweetness in the mouth, pardonable sins, momentary celebrations. And eyes too can enjoy, without touching and without damaging teeth, BMI  or commitments.

Ronny Someck was born in Baghdad in 1951, came to Israel as a child and has published 11 books of poetry.

*Musing: Is the man’s appreciation of the salesgirl sexist or feminist in attributing power to women, or simply aesthetic?

*Bonus: Rihanna sings adult content in “Birthday Cake.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leK4eoqwmfU