Ode to Being Placed on Hold

phone

 

Ode to Being Placed on Hold

The music rarely
entertains,
but I find
peace between
the notes,
sometimes,
and embrace
the notion that
I’ve been inserted
in that peculiar
capsule between
speech and the
void, imagining
myself somewhere,
floating, free
of care and
gravity,
beer can
satellites
orbiting my head,
with bites of
pungent cheeses
and baguette
circling in
their wake,
a gift, you see,
like rain in
August or
a warm voice
saying hello.

 

* * *

“Ode to Being Placed on Hold” was drafted during the Tupelo Press 30-30 marathon in August 2015. Many thanks to Mary “marso” of the blog “marsowords” who sponsored and provided the title. The poem has also appeared here several times.

 

cheese

 

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!

 

The Bitter Celebrates

 

The Bitter Celebrates

Mention gateways and mythologies
and I see openings to paths
better left unseen. No choice is

choice,
but preparation leads us astray as well.
Take this bitter leaf.
Call it arugula.
Call it rocket.
Call it colewort or weed.
Dress it with oil and vinegar,
with garlic and lemon.
Add tomato, salt.

Though you try to conceal it,
the bitterness remains.

But back to gates and myths. Do they truly
lead us out, or do we
circle back, returning
to the same endings
again
and again.

Remove the snake, rodents return.

Seal the hole.
Take this leaf.
Voice those words.
Close that door.

 

“The Bitter Celebrates” first appeared in Amethyst Review in December 2018.

 

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.

 

Which Poet, Which Beer (3)

beer

 

Nebraska Brewing Company’s Melange a Trois, a strong Belgian-Style Blonde ale, aged for six months in French Oak Chardonnay barrels, carries a good bit of the wine, with citrus and a hint of vanilla. A little musty, with an excellent frothy head, which, I believe, could describe me most mornings. But I digress. Deceptively strong (11+ ABV) with a pleasant bitterness. I would pair this with a plate of cured meat and David Wevill’s Other Names for the Heart: New and Selected Poems 1964-1984.

He writes in “Grace”:

… Sometimes lately

a bird you can’t identify has flitted close
and sung from the branches of his hands.

He leaves us touching ourselves.

Over the past thirty years, much of Wevill’s writing has left me with unrequited questions, with an itch to branch out, to learn more, to delve deeper into what makes us human.

But there are those days when introspection flies out the back door into the overgrown backyard, and all you want to do is sit back, watch the football game, relax, be entertained, escape. On those days I’ll break out a few cans of Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap, a German-style pilsner, moderately malty, straw-colored, with citrusy hops evident. A clean, palate-cleansing drink, good with nachos or chips, or hell, even with a Greek salad (heavy on the feta and olives, please). And if you’re like me and can’t devote yourself fully to the game, multitask – dip into Jeff Schwaner’s Goat Lies Down on Broadway, and absorb “Goat Reads the Signs”:

The sun rises like music
every morning. Wind goes
around the world and comes
back in a week or two. Goat
waits on top of a hill, judging…

As do we. Don’t stop there. Continue. Turn off the tube – one team will win, the other will lose. But Goat never wins. Goat never loses. Goat befriends Jerry Falwell. Goat eats Jerry’s tie. Goat ingests Sartre. Goat dies. “Goat is never dead.” A lively read, to say the least.

And speaking of lively, Independence Brewery’s Lupulust is a traditional Belgian-style tripel with a touch of modern hoppiness. It pours with a big head and spicy, floral notes, with a dry finish, reminding me of Karen Craigo’s No More Milk, in which she speaks of life – ordinary life – which, in her hands, becomes like that floral scented, big, hoppy beer. In “Scat with Mourning Dove” the narrator wakes “to syncopated song” and marvels at the bird’s jazz refrains from her place in bed with “a body warm against mine,” celebrating

how God made us, made jazz,
made an instrument of a dove.

Sip this book. Share it with friends. Take it to bed with a glass of warm milk. Savor it.

no-more-milk

 

“Which Poet, Which Beer (3)” first appeared here in September 2016.

Salad Suizen

 

Salad Suizen

Like the lone slice of cucumber
in the dinner salad,
I fear that I am not worthy
of such distinction.

No bottled dressing could mask my ineptitude.
I am that wedge of unripe winter tomato,
those pieces of lettuce bred for travel,
the black olive rounds fresh from the can.

So much to enjoy in mediocrity.

My wind sputters and fizzles.
Fingers struggle to cover the holes.
Failures accrue like compound interest
and still I persist.

Perhaps I might add croutons, red onion.
More space. Crumbled feta. Silence.

 

“Salad Suizen” first appeared in Ethel in August 2019.

Self-Portrait with Umeboshi (with recording)

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Self-Portrait with Umeboshi

Our resemblance strengthens each day.

Reddened by sun and shiso,
seasoned with salt,

we preside, finding
comfort in failure. Or does
the subjugation of one’s flavor for another’s

define defeat? The bitter, the sour, the sweet
attract and repel

like lovers separated by distances
too subtle to see.
Filling space becomes the end.
What do you learn when you look through the glass?

Knowing my fate, I say fallen. I say earth.

 

Ah, simplicity! When I was a child my mother would occasionally serve rice balls in which a single mouth-puckering umeboshi rested at the center. These have long been a favorite, but I admit that umeboshi might be an acquired taste. Commonly called “pickled plums,” ume aren’t really plums but are more closely related to apricots. I cherish them.

“Self-Portrait with Umeboshi” first appeared in the Silver Birch Press Self-Portrait Series (August 2014), was included in the subsequent print anthology, Self-Portrait Poetry Collection, and also appears in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

 

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Music: “Senbazuru” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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

image

 

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.

 

image

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