We marched for hours, going
nowhere really, but nowhere was
the point of the marching so we
achieved the goal the Air Force set.
We didn’t even think it odd
that they made us shave our heads,
so we’d all look like fools,
there was a war on and we
were in the military, so we
had already proven that point.
We were the smarter ones,
as it turned out, enlistees
who’d spend our time on bases
getting the pilots ready to fly
into the danger we knew
we had so carefully avoided,
and for us the greatest risk
appeared daily in the mess hall.
First published in As You Were, the Military Review, Vol. 13, 2020
The birds look at us as though we had two heads. They cannot, they say, comprehend how we can stand to live in boxes, to travel in metal containers, to be stuck forever to the ground. They say that food should be picked then eaten instantly, not packaged and half thrown away. They say they cannot see how we are supposedly more evolved than they, for they have the sort of freedom about which we only talk endlessly. But most of all, and saddest of all, we know they pity us as we pity ourselves.
I admit I am an odd duck, odder for not being a duck at all. But the expression has a certain je ne sais quoi to it, as does that expression and I am all about language. All that is a long round about way of acknowledging that I have always wanted to use the word antiphonal in my writing. I’m not terribly religious, and what faith I had has long been shaken by a world gone mad. Or at least a country gone mad. And even when I had some faith, I subscribed to the syllogism that religions music was to music, as military food was to food. We won’t even mention military music, that is an abject oxymoron.
As a child I lived next door to a calendar,
but not the kind mother always hung
on the wall next to the refrigerator, two,
one for school events and the obligations
attendant on parenthood and the other
for holidays, and adult social events,
the important one she’d say when
she thought we couldn’t hear.
My calendar was Mrs. Kanutsu,
the woman next door, or more accurately
the aromas that would waft from her kitchen
foretelling the Greek Orthodox holiday
about to arrive, only a few hours
after she insured that I approved
of her latest creations, all of which
were replete, redolent with spices
my mothers would never dare use.
I liked Christmas most of all, even
though I was wholly Jewish then,
for it meant she would let me help
make the phyllo, knowing I would
soon enough be rewarded with
a large piece of baklava that strangely
never seemed to make it all the way next door
My repertoire was so much wider then
for that is the mis-appreciated burden of youth.
My bookshelves groaned under the weight
of a couple of hundred cookbooks, tomes focused
on the apple, fish, chicken, or on isolated corners
of what seemed to me to be an infinitely large world.
Azeri food seemed a continent apart from Persian,
never mind the neighborhood connections.
I recall the endless hours spent
pounding veal as Escoffier demanded,
and when all else failed, a decent cut of beef
swaddled in a compound butter sauce, Bearnaise, or Choron.
I don’t know if culinary wisdom comes with age,
but the demands of an aging body, carefully listened to,
calls for the seismic shift, and if allowed
a casting aside of marbled beef, paper thin veal,
marbled end papers, pages of instructions.
I don’t recall what moment to lead to epiphany,
the giving away of salmon, taking up tofu
and the joy of creating, not re-creating, of paying
homage to cuisine, no longer being its slave.
The key to a simple meal
is to cook the rice until each grain
sits comfortably next to its neighbor
without touch or embrace.
On this, pour a bit of miso
diluted by water of a stream
or pulled from deep within the earth.
Top it all with finally cut
vegetables, carefully strewn
as you would seeds of grass
for a deep, even lawn, but here
with sufficient space that
the once white, now gently beige surface
is dotted with color, so many
islands in a slightly muddy stream.
When you are done eating
the last grain of rice from the bowl
consider how many grains have
you have eaten and give
thanks to the farmer for each one.
The woman at the next table
stares at her fork
with eyes which appear
bottomless pools of sorrow.
She picks at the noodles,
raises and lowers
the glass of wine
She is lost within herself
and even the waiter
approaches with trepidation
for fear of falling in
in her sadness.
In her eyes
are pools of cabernet
spilled from glasses
by retreating lovers,
the blood of a mother
who died in her birth,
tears of a father
You see him returning
to the table
and a smile of faint hope
crosses her lips,
lingers a moment
and is drawn
into her eyes.
She watches him
finish his wine
and with a nod
of his head, hers,
and she sinks back
deep within herself.
First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3, July 2019 at Pg. 41
It is the wet season
when the rains wash the village
carrying off the detritus of poverty.
On the adobe wall
of the ancient town hall
some villagers say
a face appeared one morning.
To some it was
the face of Christ
to others that of an old man
a former mayor, perhaps,
to most of the tourists
from the nearby resort
no more than random discoloration
of the aging plaster
that clung to the beams
by the force of will.
They arrived by bus
and rusting pick ups,
bowed to the wall
and reached out gingerly
like children touching
the flame of a candle.
To the mason it was
a job that would feed
his family for another week.
First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3 July 2019, Pg. 40
They lie in the field uprooted
slowly desicating in the harsh sun,
the fruit they might have borne
trapped in the dying flower, the seed
of another generation denied.
It was not supposed to be like this,
the sun should have fed them,
the soil nourished their souls,
their stalks growing thicker, drawing
ever more life from the earth..
But here they now lie, torn away
left to wither, and we mourn them,
and the loss of what might have been.
The question how we or those like us
could so callously disregard life,
and know that this part of our nature
will never be easily overcome.
If you have fine china
you will be saddened when it breaks.
If your pantry is full
your anxiety grows
as the food diminishes.
But if you are alone
with nothing, the apple
that falls on the road
is a feast, and the stream
runs free with the finest wine.
The silence of sun and moon
is an orchestra.
A reflection on case 52 of the Iron Flute Koans