The Invention of Cuisine
By Carol Muske-Dukes b. 1945
Imagine for a moment
the still life of our meals,
meat followed by yellow cheese,
grapes pale against the blue armor of fish.
Imagine a thin woman
before bread was invented,
playing a harp of wheat in the field.
There is a stone, and behind her
the bones of the last killed,
the black bird on her shoulder
that a century later
will fly with trained and murderous intent.
They are not very hungry
because cuisine has not yet been invented.
Nor has falconry,
nor the science of imagination.
All they have is the pure impulse to eat,
which is not enough to keep them alive
and this little moment
before the woman redeems
the sprouted seeds at her feet
and gathers the olives falling from the trees
for her recipes.
Imagine. Out in the fields
this very moment
they are rolling the apples to press,
the lamb turns in a regular aura of smoke.
See, the woman looks once behind her
before picking up the stone,
looks back once at the beasts,
above the white stream
where small creatures live and die
looking upon each other
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: La creation du Monde by Darius Milhaud
By Alfred Corn b. 1943
Loaf after loaf, in several sizes,
and never does it not look fresh,
as though its insides weren’t moist
or warm crust not the kind that spices
a room with the plump aroma of toast.
Found on the table; among shadows
next to the kitchen phone; dispatched
FedEx (without return address, though).
Someone, possibly more than one
person, loves me. Well then, who?
Amazing that bread should be so weightless,
down-light when handled, as a me
dying to taste it takes a slice.
Which lasts just long enough to reach
my mouth, but then, at the first bite,
Nothing! Nothing but air, thin air ....
Oh. One more loaf of wonderbread,
only a pun for bread, seductive
visually, but you could starve.
Get rid of it, throw it in the river—
Beyond which, grain fields. Future food for the just
and the unjust, those who love, and do not love.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Eine kleine Nachtmusik (Allegro) by W.A. Mozart
Everything Good between Men and Women
By C. D. Wright b. 1949
has been written in mud and butter
and barbecue sauce. The walls and
the floors used to be gorgeous.
The socks off-white and a near match.
The quince with fire blight
but we get two pints of jelly
in the end. Long walks strengthen
the back. You with a fever blister
and myself with a sty. Eyes
have we and we are forever prey
to each other’s teeth. The torrents
go over us. Thunder has not harmed
anyone we know. The river coursing
through us is dirty and deep. The left
hand protects the rhythm. Watch
your head. No fires should be
unattended. Especially when wind. Each
receives a free swiss army knife.
The first few tongues are clearly
preparatory. The impression
made by yours I carry to my grave. It is
just so sad so creepy so beautiful.
Bless it. We have so little time
to learn, so much... The river
courses dirty and deep. Cover the lettuce.
Call it a night. O soul. Flow on. Instead.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Twilight, from Symphonic Dances by Sergei Rachmaninov
The Battle of the Bulge
By Robert W. Service 1874–1958
This year an ocean trip I took, and as I am a Scot
And like to get my money’s worth I never missed a meal.
In spite of Neptune’s nastiness I ate an awful lot,
Yet felt as fit as if we sailed upon an even keel.
But now that I am home again I’m stricken with disgust;
How many pounds of fat I’ve gained I’d rather not divulge:
Well, anyway, I mean to take this tummy down or bust,
So here I’m suet-strafing in the
Battle of the Bulge.
No more will sausage, bacon, eggs provide my breakfast fare;
On lobster I will never lunch, with mounds of mayonnaise.
At tea I’ll Spartanly eschew the chocolate éclair;
Roast duckling and pêche melba shall not consummate my days.
No more nocturnal ice-box raids, midnight spaghetti feeds;
On slabs of pâté de foie gras I vow I won’t indulge:
Let bran and cottage cheese suffice my gastronomic needs,
And lettuce be my ally in the
Battle of the Bulge.
To hell with you, ignoble paunch, abhorrent in my sight!
I gaze at your rotundity, and savage is my frown.
I’ll rub you and I’ll scrub you and I’ll drub you day and night,
But by the gods of symmetry I swear I’ll get you down.
Your smooth and smug convexity, by heck! I will subdue,
And when you tucker in again with joy will I refulge;
No longer of my toes will you obstruct my downward view ...
With might and main I’ll fight to gain the
Battle of the Bulge.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: The Battle of Britain by William Walton
By William Matthews 1942–1997
How easily happiness begins by
dicing onions. A lump of sweet butter
slithers and swirls across the floor
of the sauté pan, especially if its
errant path crosses a tiny slick
of olive oil. Then a tumble of onions.
This could mean soup or risotto
or chutney (from the Sanskrit
chatni, to lick). Slowly the onions
go limp and then nacreous
and then what cookbooks call clear,
though if they were eyes you could see
clearly the cataracts in them.
It’s true it can make you weep
to peel them, to unfurl and to tease
from the taut ball first the brittle,
caramel-colored and decrepit
papery outside layer, the least
recent the reticent onion
wrapped around its growing body,
for there’s nothing to an onion
but skin, and it’s true you can go on
weeping as you go on in, through
the moist middle skins, the sweetest
and thickest, and you can go on
in to the core, to the bud-like,
acrid, fibrous skins densely
clustered there, stalky and in-
complete, and these are the most
pungent, like the nuggets of nightmare
and rage and murmury animal
comfort that infant humans secrete.
This is the best domestic perfume.
You sit down to eat with a rumor
of onions still on your twice-washed
hands and lift to your mouth a hint
of a story about loam and usual
endurance. It’s there when you clean up
and rinse the wine glasses and make
a joke, and you leave the minutest
whiff of it on the light switch,
later, when you climb the stairs.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Cry Me A River, performed by Julie London