Because You Cook

 

Because You Cook

You know the pleasure of
hunger, of patience
and a task well done.

Dice onion, peppers – one hot,
one sweet – saute them in olive oil,

fold them into an egg
cooked flat. Add
crumbled goat cheese, basil.

Look away.
Morning ascends, then declines,
but night drifts in, confident,
ferrying these odors among others.

Accept what comes but choose wisely.
Light the candle. Shift the burden.

 

* * *

“Because You Cook” first appeared in Ristau: A Journal of Being in January 2018. I am grateful to editor Robert L. Penick for taking this piece.

 

As the Gravy Flows

 

As the Gravy Flows

Viscosity is always a consideration, as is definition:
traditionally a sauce composed of meat juices and
thickeners, or, a sediment of melted tallow, which
somehow brings to mind a laborer rising early after
a hard night, eating red-eye, made of fried ham
drippings and coffee, served over grits. Or perhaps
an egg gravy – a béchamel sauce flavored by bacon,
with water and milk, and an egg – ladled over butter-
rubbed biscuits. But then I picture my vegetarian
friends pushing away from plates of this fine repast,
and not wishing to deny them or those following a vegan
lifestyle, we turn to roasted vegetables with broth, oils
and wine and a savory yeast extract. But I can’t fathom
a life without giblet gravy, which features the neck and
offal of fowl, including the liver, the taste of which may
be too strong for other recipes using giblets, an interesting
word in itself, from the Old French for a game-bird stew,
and the Middle English meaning of an inessential
appendage, or entrails, morphing to garbage. I would
never throw out an onion gravy, essentially a thick sauce
of slow-cooked onion and stock or wine, and admit to
having tasted a cream version with the consistency and
flavor of diluted paste, indicating a lack of balance in
flavor and poor roux-making technique. My favorite
would be an Italian-American buddy’s gravy, his word
for a rich ragù of sausage, braised beef and shredded
pork, red wine, tomatoes and herbs, served over pasta.
This of course stretches the definition of the word, but
language is elastic, is it not? So it flows, as does the gravy.

 

“As the Gravy Flows” was drafted during the August 2016 30/30 Challenge. Thank you to Lady Phoenix for sponsoring the poem and providing the title!

 

Lying in Bed I Think of Breakfast (with recording)

 

 

Lying in Bed, I Think of Breakfast

The moon smiles and I lie here thinking
of the simple breakfasts I would cook for
us: sticky rice with scrambled eggs and
sauteed peppers, or toasted boule with bacon
jam and a side of sliced peaches. And coffee.
Always coffee, black and bitter. But circumstance
dictates other courses, other time zones, and you
wake in your city as I walk in mine, an early
shopper plundering the store’s vegetable
bins, wandering the aisles in search of a
bargain and that special ingredient missing
from my tired, inconsolable days.

 

 

“Lying in Bed I Think of Breakfast” was published in December 2019 by The Big Windows Review. Thanks to editor Thomas Zimmerman for accepting this piece.

 

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? The pantry’s contents.

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:

photo(13)

This last appeared here in November  2018.

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.

 

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“Onions” last appeared here in December 2018. Hmm. This reminds me (again) that I need to sharpen knives…

Chili, Chocolate and Chihuahuas

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Chili, Chocolate and Chihuahuas

I am comfortably nestled in this house, sorting the pages of an unruly poetry manuscript in the company of Apollonia, the six-pound terror of Texas, and Ozymandias, her doting, but worried, twelve-pound shadow. As noon departs I note hunger’s first tentative touch, and head to the grocery store for supplies. I’m craving chili, but not having a particular recipe in mind, decide to see what strikes my fancy.

Ah, the sun at last!
No more rain, the yard’s drying.
Our dogs, shivering.

For my chili base I’ll sometimes toast dried ancho peppers, rehydrate and puree them, but I’ve recently replenished my chile powder stock (ancho, chipotle, New Mexico, cayenne, smoked paprika) and feel just a tad lazy, so I’ll use the powdered stuff. But I pick up a poblano, some jalapeños and two onions, and on my way to the meat counter, grab a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and some spiced tomato sauce. I examine the beef and nothing entices me (ground beef is anathema, and don’t even mention beans!), but a few paces away I spy a small pork roast, and place it in my cart alongside a 16-oz bottle of Shiner Bock and a bag of chocolate chips.

Knowing my plans, the
cashier smiles and shakes her head.
Milk chocolate chips?

Shuffling the manuscript pages, I ask the dogs for their input, but Apollonia declines, preferring to nap in a sunbeam, and Ozzie is too busy pacing to bother with poetry. So I turn to the impending dinner, chop onion, dice peppers, mince garlic, measure out the various chile powders, cumin and oregano, cube the pork, and brown it in the Dutch oven.

Ozymandias
sits by the front door and moans.
Wind rattles the house.

Once the meat is seared, I saute the veggies, dump in the canned tomatoes and chile powder mixture, add the meat, coating it with the spices, and then pour in the Shiner Bock and heat it all to a near-boil before reducing the temperature and allowing it to simmer for an hour, at which point I stir in about four ounces of the chocolate chips and a teaspoon of garam masala. I let the chili simmer for another hour, then remove half of the pork, shred it with a fork (it’s very tender), and return it to the pot, stir, taste, and add a little salt. Done. I ladle out a bowl, pour a La Frontera IPA, and eat. Not bad, I think. Not bad at all for the first chili of the season.

Beer in hand, I burp,
the dogs stirring underfoot.
Oh, this wondrous world!



* * *

I first posted this in December 2015. The recent snowfall and frigid weather is making me think about chili. Mmmmm.

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A Cheese Omelet at Midnight

cracking eggs

 

A Cheese Omelet at Midnight

You can’t ever leave without saying something,
no matter how insipid. That sweater looks good
on you. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. I’m sorry
I burned the omelet. Nasdaq has plunged 3% 

since last week. And I, in return, can’t let you go without
replying in equal measure. It matches your eyes. I love
to smell rain in August. That cheddar was delicious.
Maybe I’ll start a savings account. Next month.

So I wash dishes when you’re gone, wipe down the
counters, pour salt into the shaker, grab a book, join my
cat in bed. This tune’s been overplayed, the grooves’re
worn down. Maybe next time I’ll say what I mean,

tell you what I want: It would look better in a heap
on the floor. How about a shower here, tonight? Kiss
me and I’ll never think of it again. I don’t give a rat’s
ass about the stock exchange. Step away from that door!

I’ll make your lunch, butter your 7-grain toast, assemble
your IKEA furniture, balance your books, even dye
my hair pink, tattoo a pig on my thigh and drink light beer
in your honor, if you would agree to say what’s on your

mind. On second thought, don’t. Tell me, instead,
what I want to hear, but make it heart-felt. Truthful
and direct. Poached but earnest. Hard-boiled but tender.
I’ll cook your eggs. Invest in me. You’ll earn interest.

 

* * *

This originally appeared in August 2015, as the 25th offering in the Tupelo Press 30-30 fund raiser. Thank you, Pleasant Street, for sponsoring this.

 

Asparagus omelet MGD©

Gruyere

 

Gruyere

Thinking of speech and the gruyere sliver
balancing on that blade, which nouns push it over,
which hold it in place. How simplicity defies the complex.
Like the hard-crusted bread of flour, water, salt and yeast.
The elemental surge. A little steam. An incantation
born of emptiness: he speaks but says nothing
as the cheese teeters on the edge, suffering
the plight of the incomprehensible. Funny
that adding more reduces the whole, and less
flavors it. A few words, a spice. A syllable.
Milk and rennet. Verbs. A confident tongue.

 

“Gruyere” was published in Nthanda Review, an online literary magazine out of Mawali, in January 2019.

 

 

 

Drawer of Possibilities

 

Drawer of Possibilities

In the drawer of possibilities
you find stasis, the lure of the unknown.
To what should this hinged orb
be subservient? Or that wrinkled blade?
An egg, the bald potato. The sacrificial
carrot? To everything its purpose.
Like that light in the crook of the
altered frame, attracting the winged
beings. You, of course, serve nothing.

 

“Drawer of Possibilities” first appeared in The New Reader in March 2018.