Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Chicken Soup

Scott Beal

for Joanna Ruth Bock

Instead of your soup I picked us up

a six-pack to split. But since you’re six hundred
miles away I guess I’ll drink yours too and hope
you catch a vicarious buzz through the poem.
Here’s to your health. Hey, I’m trying

to make this warm and easy on the throat.

Fun fact: did you know that chicken noodle
soup was invented in the late Middle Ages

by a Benedictine abbess named Maria

della Fabriano when she tripped and dropped
the roasted chicken for the All Saints’ Day
Feast into the bathwater of Sister Francesca?
And what, you may ask, would such a crucial
roast chicken be doing so close

to Francesca’s bathing quarters? History
suspects the aroma was so intense

that Mother Maria could not resist

spiriting it directly to give her lover

a sniff. Imagine their faces,

pressed close—as medieval nuns,

remember, they might eat

fresh meat twice a year in flush times—
imagine them leaning in, eyes half-closed,

both their faces aglow in the heat from the flesh
just pulled from the fire, and then the splash

as it slips from the platter into the tiny

tub where Francesca soaks. Imagine
the bird bumping warm against her skin,
waves brimming the edge of the tub

as she madly pulls herself up and out

to shiver naked at Maria’s side as they both
stare down at the floating corpse of the abbey’s
holy meal. Oh, they’re screwed. So screwed.
And each on her own has already learned
to accept the probability of hell,

but neither is willing to abandon the other

to damnation, not to mention expulsion

from the abbey and likely death on the streets,

so they hatch a crazy plan, and haul the tub

back to the kitchen, chop vegetables,

throw in strips of dough, and ladle it into bowls

for every sister at the feast, and for the visiting monks
from the next friary who’ve come to oversee

the proceedings. Mother Maria calls it divine
inspiration, this new dish, and every holy personage

in the hall gulps down spoonfuls of Sister Francesca’s
bathwater, her first bath in weeks, and all pronounce
the soup delicious, and give thanks in prayer, and Maria
and Francesca are saved, and go to heaven,

where they are now, I promise, could anyone

make up a story like this?