Poet’s Pantry

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In my sliver of the world, poetry and cooking share many qualities. When I step into the kitchen, I often have only a vaporous notion of what’s for dinner. A hankering for roasted poblano peppers, the need to use a protein languishing in the refrigerator, the memory of an herbal breeze wafting down a terraced hill near Lago d’Averno, Hell’s entrance, according to Virgil, or even a single intriguing word, may spark what comes next. But the success of what follows depends upon the ingredients at hand, on how we’ve stocked the pantry. Good products beget better results. Let’s take my desire for roasted poblanos. What to do with them? Poking around, I uncover an opened package of goat cheese, a bit of grated grana padano and some creme fraiche, and I immediately think pasta! Looking further I spot arugula, a lemon, a handful of pecans, some cherry tomatoes. Dinner: Pappardelle with a roasted poblano and goat cheese sauce, garnished with toasted pecans, served with an arugula and cherry tomato salad dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Simple, when you’ve stocked a solid base of quality components.

My writing employs a similar process. Anything – a vague sense of uneasiness, a particular word, the sunlight slanting through the unfortunate dove’s imprint on my window, articles or books I’ve read or perused on a myriad of subjects – may launch a poem. But what truly makes the poem, what bolsters, fills and completes, what ignites and catapults it arcing into the firmament are, of course, the pantry’s ingredients.

Everyone’s needs differ, and I wouldn’t presume to inflict my peculiar sensibilities on anyone, but if you cracked open my burgeoning poetry pantry’s door, you’d certainly unearth dictionaries and a thesaurus, fallen stars, books on etymology and language, curiosity, a guitar or mandolin, at least one window (sometimes partially open), conversations floating in the ether, various empty frames, wind, dog biscuits and dirty socks, a walking stick, sunlight and shadows, more books on such subjects as ancient navigation, the history of numbers, the periodic table, alchemy and olives. You might also spy reams of paper, unspoken words, coffee cups, a scorpion or two, scrawled notes on index cards, wandering musical notes, a pipe wrench, wood ear mushrooms and salvaged fragments of writing, failed ideas moldering in clumps on the floor, a few craft beers and empty wine bottles, a chain saw, and most important of all, a bucketful of patience.

(I cannot over-emphasize the bucket’s contents…)

This is just to say (no, I didn’t eat the plums) that the best equipped poets stock their pantries with the world and all its questions, with logic, with faith, persistence, emotion, science, art, romance and yes, patience. Line your kit with every tool you can grasp or imagine. Keep adding to it. Read deeply. Listen. Breathe. Listen again. Converse. Look outward. Further, past the trees, around the bend and beyond the horizon’s curve, where the unknown lurks. Look again. Don’t stop. Continue.

And if after all this you’re wondering what basks in my kitchen pantry:

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This last appeared here in October 2015.

3 Poems Up at Quiet Letter

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I’m delighted to announce that three of my poems are live at Quiet Letter. The three (“Cutting Down the Anniversary Pine,” “Strollermelon,” and “Memory and Closets“), were written during the 30/30 challenges I undertook during the past two Augusts to raise funds for Tupelo Press, a non-profit literary publisher.

My Poem, “To the Light Entering the Shack One December Evening,” is Up at Shantih

 

My Poem, “To the Light Entering the Shack One December Evening,” is up at Shantih. Many thanks to editor David L. White for including me among these pages.

 

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Onions

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Onions

My knife never sings but hums instead when withdrawn from its block, a metallic whisper so modest only the wielder may hear it. Or perhaps the dog, who seems to enjoy the kitchen nearly as much as I. A Japanese blade, it’s a joy to hold, perfectly balanced, stainless steel-molybdenum alloy, blade and handle of one piece, bright, untarnished, and so sharp as to slide through, rather than awkwardly rupture and divide, its next task on the board.

We’ve never counted the chopped and rendered onions, the fine dice, slender rings and discarded skins, but if we could gather all the corpses we’ve produced together over the years, we’d form a monument to our work, cooperation of metal and man, a Waterloo mound in memory of the bulbs laid there, the planning involved, the missteps and serendipity, and the tears shed along the way.

The blade doesn’t care. It is. It works. It moves things, it lifts, it parts them, and in return is cleansed, and later, in the quiet room, maintains its edge with a silvery rasp, angled steel on steel in a circular motion, over and over, until finally it hums its way back into the block. But it never sings.

“Onions” first appeared on this blog in June 2015.

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Hummingbird (3)

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Hummingbird (3)

Arriving from nowhere,
its mouth opens

but what escapes
comes not from within

and is never complete.
Words, too, falter

in this space,
struggling to remain

aloft, challenged yet free,
an exchange

between air and wing,
of sound and thought,

occurring as it must
without design

or desire, simply
there, then gone,

a presence one notices
in its absence.

* * *

“Hummingbird (3) made its first appearance  on the blog in December 2014.

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In Praise of Time

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In Praise of Time

We marvel that so much
produces only
more of the same,

increased yet
diminished, no two
alike yet never

differing, earth to
soil, glacier to rain,
stardust to morning,

open, filled, wasted,
lost, killing, preserving,
making more, wanting.

* * *

First posted in October, 2014.

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If We Burn

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If We Burn

What flares instead to replace our
privileged nights? And which

assemblage of words could reorder these
deaths into comprehension,

change I can’t breathe from epitaph
to actuated plea for help?

Are words ever enough?
Can we stack our indifference and fear

into a mile-high pyre, and torching it
watch them rise to nothingness,

disappearing through the clouds
into the streaming light of cold, dark stars?

Raise your hands and sing. Blow softly
upon the ember. Inhale and recall.

Do you still feel? Will you breathe?
Every fire needs oxygen.

“If We Burn” first appeared on this blog in December, 2014. It’s also included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

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