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/

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.

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.

 

Countdown #3: A Cheese Omelet at Midnight

cracking eggs

 

My last five posts of 2020 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year.

 

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©

Ode to Bacon (with recording)

 

This is a celebratory post. Yesterday I cooked bacon, and it smelled like, well BACON! And it tasted like bacon, too. One of the side effects of COVID-19 is parosmia (a distorted sense of smell/taste), and both Stephanie and I have suffered from it since July. We’ve been unable to tolerate such staples as onion, peppers (bell and chile), garlic, dark chocolate, sparkling wine, peanut butter, grilled/charred and cured meats of all kinds, celery, arugula, and assorted other beloved foods. But yesterday’s breakfast of migas tacos with bacon clearly indicates that we are improving. Finally!

 

Ode to Bacon

How you lend
yourself
to others,

enhancing even
the sweetest fig
in your embrace
over coals,

or consider
your rendered
self, how it

deepens flavor
with piggish
essence, coating

or absorbed,
blended or
sopped. O belly
of delight, o wonder
of tongues,

how could I not
love you
and your infinite
charms, even

when you resist
my efforts and
shoot sizzling bits

of yourself
onto my naked
hands? I pay

this toll
gladly,
today and

next year
and all those
days to follow,

till the last piece
is swallowed
and our sun
goes dark.

Hyperbole
becomes you,
smoked beauty,
salted love,

and I shall never
put you down
or leave you
behind

on a plate
to be discarded
or forgotten,

unloved.

“Ode to Bacon” first appeared here in July 2017, thanks to T.S. Wright’s challenge.

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:

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This first appeared here in January  2014.

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 2019. Hmm. This reminds me (again) that I need to sharpen knives…

Alas, my bout with COVID-19 has rendered me incapable of, or unwilling to, cut into onions. Parosmia has reared its ugly head, and now onions, garlic, bacon, peppers, arugula and hoppy ales among other beloved foods emit odors resembling a mix of raw sewage, mildewed peat moss and burnt wood. Ah, 2020!

Baking Bread

 

Baking Bread

I would knead you in the afternoon,
in the warmth of a still room,
starting high at the shoulders,
one finger sliding down your spine,

my lips following, tracing the path
of a hummingbird’s flight. Oh, my love,
circumstance and distance, floods and
wildfires, will never truly douse our light.

I wait as the dough rises, and think
in the languages of yeast and water
and flour and salt, how my hands

will feel at your waist, how our day
falls into night, our love firming,
ever expanding through the rising heat.

 

“Baking Bread” first appeared in Ristau: A Journal of Being in January 2019. Many thanks to editor Bob Penick for taking this piece.

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.