Cutlery couples

This post was originally posted on 18th July, 2009.

Today we went shopping in the upmarket neighbourhood of Chelsea. Our first stop was the famous John Sandoe Bookstore. The store, which sells new books, is absolutely packed, much more in the style of a used bookshop where books are placed wherever they fit at the moment. In the basement, where we spent most of our time, there were three sections: poetry, drama and children’s books.
I spent a while browsing the substantial poetry selection. At one point, I picked up a book by Billy Collins, who we have published in Cha previously. The former Poet Laureate of the USA, Collins has a talent for writing about relationships and life experiences in a charming manner. In his recent collection, Ballistics (2008), there was a poem titled “Divorce”, which is about a cutlery couple; that is, two pieces of cutlery which are in a relationship:


     Once, two spoons in bed,
     now tined forks

     across a granite table
     and the knives they have hired.

I like how as the relationship progresses, the couple changes from two loving spoons into piercing forks. I also like the cutlerification of lawyers as knives.
The poem also reminded me of a cartoon which I taught in the course Introduction to Language and Communication at the School of English, HKU. The cartoon (see below) depicts two sets of cutlery couples: one is made of a fork and a knife, and is assumed to be a regular Western couple. The other, formed of a fork and a single chopstick, represents a mixed couple: half Western and half Asian. The joke which accompanies the illustration is: “Don’t say anything, but I’ve heard she’s a mail-order bride.”
Image source

Apart from the joke itself, which I like, I also think the cartoonist manages to make a comment (whether consciously or unconsciously) about the difficulty of mixed relationships. After all, it is much harder to eat with one fork and one chopstick than it is to eat with a knife and fork, or with two chopsticks. I do wonder, though, if it would be better to have a knife as a wife, or a chopstick?

PS. A couple of pieces of over-analysis: 1. Two spoons (and later two forks) — is the couple in Collins’s poem homosexual? 2. In the cartoon, we would have to assume that a normal Asian couple is made of two chopsticks but a Western couple is made of a fork and a knife. It is a little strange that the Asian couple is made of two identical pieces of cutlery but the Western couple is made of two different but complementry pieces. Surely, according to yin and yang theology and basic heterosexual relationships, the Asian couple should also be made up of two complementary utensils. I wonder what this all means. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
12 Responses “Cutlery couples” →
July 18, 2009
Observations from Reid:
“Spooning” means (in 19th century English) courting AND it also refers to a sexual position. As for your blog, “spooning” could apply to homosexual sex as well. But at some time a spoon meant a simpleton, so somebody acting foolish or silly was “spooning” and that came to mean being silly in love, which then came to mean courtship. All meanings should be available to Collins. (Well, the simpleton meaning is no longer current–i don’t think.)
Shadowy figure
July 18, 2009
Forks are quite self-sufficient: you can eat most foods without a knife. And best foods are those that you don’t need any utensils for.
July 18, 2009
Ah! You are saying the men in the cartoon are quite self-sufficient, whereas the women…..
July 18, 2009
Forks can be romantic, not just spoons:
July 19, 2009
Some questions and thoughts:
If a knife and a fork is a couple, which one is the husband, and which one is the wife?
Chopsticks always come in a pair. A fork or a knife can serve some purposes on its own, but one chopstock alone has absolutely no use. The chopstick “couple” has a much closer relationship – they can’t survive without each other.
July 19, 2009
I like your interpretation about the chopsticks. I think in the cartoon, the fork is the man.
July 19, 2009
As one (a fork or a knife, depending on the day – sometimes cutting and blunt, other times more four-pronged and pokey) who married a chopstick, I have to say, I just have no idea. Two chopsticks? a knife and fork? What fits where and who and how? Who’s to know? Who’s to say?
I’ll say this, though, you could marry a girl or boy from your same tribe on your same small island from your same small gene pool and still, her family could just as easily have buttered their toast butter-side down or, God forbid, not toasted it at all. Two people marry and they’ve got differences to negotiate. On my blunter days I of course tie my choptick to the floor and force her to toast her bread and butter it right side up. Dammit!
July 19, 2009
I need some females to participate in this discussion.
July 20, 2009
In India we use our fingers to eat. It takes a whole family of fingers to get the job done. Although messier, is life softer without pointy or serrated appendages?
July 20, 2009
Messier — but perhaps more fun?
July 20, 2009
and what about the other way:
first – flying knifes and at the end, after 10, 20 60 years of living (and loving) two gently hugged spoons…

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