The cat ignored him totally this morning. She wouldn’t give him the time of day if she could have told time. It was surprising, and for him it was painful. He loved the cat, and he thought the cat loved him. Once he thought he saw her sneer but he knew cats did not do that. But she looked away, if she had even looked at him in that moment. But to not even acknowledge his presence, to thank him for the food, that hurt. The cat hid her smile, knowing even Pavlov would be pleased with how well her training of the human was going. He would be wrapped around her paw before he knew it at this pace
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 without sipping. She is lost within herself and even the waiter approaches with trepidation for fear of falling in and drowning in her sadness. In her eyes are pools of cabernet spilled from glasses cast aside by retreating lovers, the blood of a mother who died in her birth, tears of a father hopelessly alone. 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