Chocolate

“The plainest things, it seems to me, are filled with wonder.” —Lucille Clifton

 

SOME PEOPLE are perfectly fine without it. My friend Ross jokes that he can go for months at a time and not even notice. I too felt like that about chocolate—that is, until the pandemic started.

When schools and restaurants first shut down last year, my family stocked up on essentials as if planning for a hurricane or tornado. When I ordered groceries online from our local market, I threw in a couple travel-size bottles of hand sanitizer (all I could find in those frantic early days) and a Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate bar just because it made me happy, and, I confess, seeing the word lonely on the bright red wrapper made me feel a little less lonesome.

Things you can buy online made of chocolate: a camera, teapot, key, golf ball. A complete tool kit: hammer, wrench, saw, pliers. You can buy food that looks like it was dipped in it: an orange, a piece of toast with egg and bacon on top (complete with a chocolate fork and knife). You can buy a box of Brussels sprout–shaped chocolates painted green. Also green: a chocolate Yoda. Chocolate chess sets, a watch, handcuffs, a gun with chocolate bullets, a high-heeled shoe, a rose, bunnies (of course), a pair of lips, and for someone truly out of this world, you can buy a whole chocolate solar system of planets (minus Pluto, much to my chagrin).

In Austin, Texas, I’m particularly fond of Madhu Chocolates, who source their cacao from the Tumaco region of Colombia, then roast, crack, winnow, grind, flavor, temper, and wrap all their chocolate bars by hand. My father says their masala chai dark chocolate reminds him of the chai he used to drink back home in Kerala. This past summer, we lost my paternal grandmother, the greatest cook I’ve known (doesn’t everyone feel the same way of their grandmothers?) and, because of the travel restrictions, none of us were able to attend her funeral in India. I won’t pretend eating chocolate helped our grief across the ocean in any way—but I wonder about the families all over the planet unmoored by so much separation these days.

When we eat chocolate, our brains release dopamine as a way to activate pleasure and pleasurable feelings. And someone somewhere once imagined whole planets of chocolates, maybe to soothe a loneliness bubbling up. Some heavy days it feels like perhaps we could all use a universe of chocolates, something to help ease our losses, big and small. Maybe just a few stars, or a nebula, for the graduations, weddings, births, and funerals we’ve missed. Something to conjure up a taste of India in northern Mississippi. Add another couple bars of chocolate to your cart. O

 

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a professor of English in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program. Her newest collection of poems is Oceanic, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). With Ross Gay, she co-wrote the chapbook, Lace & Pyrite, a collaboration of nature poems. She is also the author of an illustrated book of nature essays, World of Wonders, from Milkweed Editions, 2020. She is the former poetry editor of Orion and her poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry 2015 & 2018 series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, and Tin House. Her honors include a 2020 Guggenheim fellowship, a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pushcart Prize.