Osso Buco

Around here, we used to do a fairly regular feature called Food Poetry Wednesday. It isn’t the catchiest name ever, but it was straightforward. Since taking my new job, I’ve had shamefully little time to concentrate on anything else but keeping my head above water. Today, however, found me laid up in the house most of the day with a terrible allergy attack. After a morning of watching World’s Most Shocking Police Videos (or some other such crap) in a histamine-induced daze, I turned off the TV and went back to bed with some books.

One of them was Billy Collins’ Sailing Alone Around the Room, a gift from an old friend upon landing my first job out of college. Billy Collins was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003, but before that he was writing the kind of poetry that has always touched me: poems that elevate the ordinary to something sacred, special or simply humorous. He takes the most routine situations — or even thoughts — and puts them into verses that either make you take everything a little less seriously or make you appreciate the small things just that much more, depending upon the mood in which you’ve found yourself.

So in honor of a not-so-special Sunday evening in which I’ve found myself in a fairly rotten mood, here’s a food poem by Billy Collins that gave me comfort in spite of myself. Hope it does the same for you, too.

Osso Bucco

I love the sound of the bone against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto,
the meat soft as the leg of an angel
who has lived a purely airborne existence.
And best of all, the secret marrow,
the invaded privacy of the animal
prized out with a knife and swallowed done
with cold, exhilarating wine.

I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach —
something you don’t hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
You know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter.

But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm, heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance
and the sound of my wife’s laughter
on the telephone in the next room,
the woman who cooked the savory osso bucco,
who pointed to show the butcher the ones she wanted.
She who talks to her faraway friend
while I linger here at the table
with a hot, companionable cup of tea,
feeling like one of the friendly natives,
a reliable guide, maybe even the chief’s favorite son.

Somewhere, a man is crawling up a rock hillside
on bleeding knees and palms, an Irish penitent
carrying the stone of the world in his stomach;
and elsewhere people of all nations stare
at one another across a long, empty table.

But here, the candles give off their warm glow,
the same light that Shakespeare and Izaak Walton wrote by,
the light that lit and shadowed the faces of history.
Only now it plays on the blue plates,
the crumpled napkins, the crossed knife and fork.

In a while, one of us will go up to bed
and the other one will follow.
Then we will slip below the surface of the night
into miles of water, drifting down and down
to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock,
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things”

Having missed last week, Food Poetry Wednesday is back in full form today with a special treat.  Today’s poem is easily one of the most beloved food poems ever written, although most people don’t think of it as a food poem, per se.  But that’s what made Lewis Carroll such a talented writer and poet: his ability to write for the whimsical imaginations of children while still appealing to adults with his witty and evocative imagery.

Today’s poem is a perfect example of that, as his descriptions of the oysters both in their appearance and in their consumption by the Walrus and the Carpenter are incredibly well-written and could hold their own against any food writer’s prose then or now.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
from Through the Looking Glass

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright–
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done–
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead–
There were no birds to fly.

Continue reading “The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things”

To sip wine while studying the light

Let’s not make a fuss. It’s Wednesday. Which means it’s also Food Poetry Day. So here’s a poem on Wednesday for a Thursday, from Serbian-American Poet Laureate Charles Simic.


Against Whatever It Is That’s Encroaching

Best of all is to be idle,
And especially on a Thursday,
And to sip wine while studying the light:
The way it ages, yellows, turns ashen
And then hesitates forever
On the threshold of the night
That could be bringing the first frost.

It’s good to have a woman around just then,
And two is even better.
Let them whisper to each other
And eye you with a smirk.
Let them roll up their sleeves and unbutton their shirts a bit
As this fine old twilight deserves,

And the small schoolboy
Who has come home to a room almost dark
And now watches wide-eyed
The grown-ups raise their glasses to him,
The giddy-headed, red-haired woman
With eyes tightly shut,
As if she were about to cry or sing.

Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth

One of my favorite bloggers and food photographers, Evil Chef Mom, posted a sumptuous picture of three ripe persimmons yesterday on Flickr:

Photo courtesy of Flickr user evil chef mom.

And I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite food poems, just in time for Food Poetry Wednesday.

Today’s poem comes to us courtesy of Li-Young Lee, a Chinese poet who was born in Indonesia but raised in the United States.  If you’re unfamiliar with Lee, he’s led a fascinating life (as did his parents and grandparents) which has strongly contributed to his bold, broadly-appealing, and deep yet accessible style of poetry.

The poem — which is quite long — is after the jump…  Happy reading!

Continue reading Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth

“And I will be that green.”

Food poetry Wednesday is upon us, fair readers.  And I’ve got a feast for you today.

Today’s poem is from Carolyn Kizer, Pulitzer prize winner and noted feminist.  And although today’s poem is tinged throughout with her particularly cutting brand of feminism, it still manages to retain a raw yet fragile beauty.  Hope you enjoy…

Food of Love

“Eating is touch carried to the bitter end” — Samuel Butler II

I’m going to murder you with love;
I’m going to suffocate you with embraces;
I’m going to hug you, bone by bone,
Till you’re dead all over.
Then I will dine on your delectable marrow.

You will become my personal Sahara;
I’ll sun myself in you, the with one swallow
Drain your remaining brackish well.
With my female blade I’ll carve my name
In your most aspiring palm
Before I chop it down
Then I’ll inhale your last oasis whole.

But in the total desert you become
You’ll see me stretch, horizon to horizon,
Opulent mirage!
Wisteria balconies, dripping cyclamen.
Vistas ablaze with crystal, laced in gold.

So you will summon each dry grain of sand.
And move towards me in undulating dunes
Till you arrive at sudden ultramarine:
A Mediterranean to stroke your dusty shores;
Obstinate verdure, creeping inland, fast renudes
Your barrens; succulents spring up everywhere,
Surprising life! And I will be that green.

When you are fed and watered, flourishing
With shoots entwining trellis, dome and spire,
Till you are resurrected field in bloom,
I will devour you, my natural food,
My host, my final supper on the earth,
And you’ll begin to die again.

Bitter Tastes of Twigs We Chewed

It’s Food Poetry Wednesday, folks!

Sorry for no Tuesday Trivia, but it’s been one of those weeks around the office. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this oldie-but-goodie from Woodie Guthrie (yes, Woodie Guthrie!) called “Remember the Mountain Bed.”

While not traditionally a “food poem,” I love the imagery that Guthrie uses here, so vivid that you can smell the forest and taste the twigs he describes.

Remember the Mountain Bed

Do you still sing of the mountain bed we made of limbs and leaves:
Do you still sigh there near the sky where the holly berry bleeds:
You laughed as I covered you over with leaves, face, breast, hips and thighs.
You smiled when I said the leaves were just the color of your eyes.

Rosin smells and turpentine smells from eucalyptus and pine
Bitter tastes of twigs we chewed where tangled woodvines twine
Trees held us in on all four sides so thick we could not see
I could not see any wrong in you, and you saw none in me.

Your arm was brown against the ground, your cheeks part of the sky.
As your fingers played with grassy moss, and limber you did lie:
Your stomach moved beneath your shirt and your knees were in the air
Your feet played games with mountain roots, as you lay thinking there.

Below us the trees grew clumps of trees, raised families of trees, and they
As proud as we tossed their heads in the wind and flung good seeds away:
The sun was hot and the sun was bright down in the valley below
Where people starved and hungry for life so empty come and go.

Continue reading Bitter Tastes of Twigs We Chewed

Build Me an Ark, Fill It with Prairie Moths

Whatever happened to Food Poetry Wednesdays?  Good question.  To make up for the lack of food poetry around these parts lately, here’s one of my all-time favorites from Barbara Hamby.  Enjoy her rich, lush imagery and ability to evoke Tim Burton via E. E. Cummings in only a few short verses.

Vex Me

Vex me, O Night, your stars stuttering like a stuck jukebox,
put a spell on me, my bones atremble at your tabernacle

of rhythm and blues. Call out your archers, chain me
to a wall, let the stone fortress of my body fall

like a rabid fox before an army of dogs. Rebuke me,
rip out my larynx like a lazy snake and feed it to the voiceless

throng. For I am midnight’s girl, scouring unlit streets
like Persephone stalking her swarthy lord. Anoint me

with oil, make me greasy as a fast-food fry. Deliver me
like a pizza to the snapping crack-house hours between

one and four. Build me an ark, fill it with prairie moths,
split-winged fritillaries, blue-bottle flies. Stitch

me a gown of taffeta and quinine, starlight and nightsoil,
and when the clock tocks two, I’ll be the belle of the malaria ball.