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Note: from Saudades, a project in collaboration with chef and author Shannon Hughes; commissioned by Stags’ Leap Winery in 2003 and performed at the winery during a dinner created by Shannon; published by Stags’ Leap Winery, 2003 in a limited edition book designed by Zida Borcich

Chocolate Is a Guitar

“Because without chocolate all would be darkness and chaos”
Sign over the nursing station of Kaiser’s Infusion Center, Santa Rosa, CA


Chocolate is a guitar that plays
the details of the mountain, which lies
under the skin of our laughter, inviting blossoms,
but made of shadow, a nightscape unrelieved
by stars. When chocolate was a controlled
substance in Europe, it was a guitar and a shoe,
a beautiful pair of slippers that could bring you
to the door of your beloved, and how wise
were the Catholic Fathers to be so wary,
knowing the Aztecs respected it as a god,
a powerful ally, one of the primary
forces, a natural resource like lightning.

We put it into our mouth so casually. Our fingers
pluck at the easy strings, which pull from our bellies mad
resonances. Played in the simple chord progressions
of sugar, cacao is a delight, an olfactory time portal, something
which races under the skin and into the blood with manic joy,
tender closer to the appetite, shutting the door on the meal, opening
the door of the night. Great mimic of the behavior of the heart

On such a night, cacao, in an impeccably crafted wood of deep
nutty brown, stands in perfect contrast to a garden splayed out
under the fist of the moon, a garden cast in silvers and whites,
the negative hype of the soul. We hear the rippling laughter
of its strings because, of course, compared with everything else
we ingest, it is a complete food, something that would
have frightened the prophet in the desert with his fanciful
fast. We know now what the dark one offered to the young man
Jesus, do we not? Compared to its sleek and elegant phrasing,
everything else is pale: the white foods, the bone foods, the silvery
table service, and the moon eavesdropping on our secret

Played in the lower registers, in the minor keys
of spice, pepper, and flesh, it more closely resembles
the illicit drug of the sixteenth century Parisian, a cargo
for fateful sailing ships, the eye shadow of women
for whom life and love are multiple, and the landscape
a skirt for the sky. Fermentation is its baptism, and it is married off
to fermented corn silk, cuitlacoche, in the mountains of Sonora,
an accompaniment to the distillations of nuts and herbs in Alta California, inserted
into dreams and fictions, a charge of power, a mess, a mountain, and if a
mountain is powerful, then a mountain is a shoe and a guitar,
sturdy athletic shoes which tack lightly across the ragged volcanic detritus,
trick guitar that wails with the soul of an owl, complex of nerves
and of fault lines, a mole.


Theresa Whitehill
from the book, Saudades

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