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 the author of the New York Times best-selling illustrated collection of nature essays and Kirkus Prize finalist, WORLD OF WONDERS: IN PRAISE OF FIREFLIES, WHALE SHARKS, & OTHER ASTONISHMENTS (2020, Milkweed Editions), which was chosen as Barnes and Noble’s Book of the Year. She has four previous poetry collections: OCEANIC (Copper Canyon Press, 2018), LUCKY FISH (2011), AT THE DRIVE-IN VOLCANO (2007), and MIRACLE FRUIT (2003), the last three from Tupelo Press. Her most recent chapbook is LACE & PYRITE, a collaboration of epistolary garden poems with the poet Ross Gay. Her writing appears twice in the Best American Poetry Series, The New York Times Magazine, ESPNPloughshares, American Poetry Review, and Tin House. Honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, a Mississippi Arts Council grant, and being named a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. In 2021, she became the first-ever poetry editor for SIERRA magazine, the story-telling arm of The Sierra Club. She is professor of English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.