FOOD FOR THOUGHT: GETTING LITERATE – or, Food-Related Writings by Marilyn and Friends

The writer in me wants this blog to be about more than just recipes, cookbooks and foodie memoirs. The stories I tell along with recipes expand a little beyond such things, but there’s much more I intend to add. Now that I’m a little better acquainted with WordPress, it’s time to open Kitchen Caudron up to some food “literature” types of entries. I’m talking about anything written that even vaguely relates to food, cooking, baking, kitchens, cookbooks, chefs, etc., although I expect most pieces will make obvious use of foodstuff as images, metaphor and/or settings.  There will also be “Guest Bloggers” who offer up their recipes, but that’s for another time – and they will actually wind up on the main page.

THIS PAGE, Food for Thought: Getting Literate, expands KC‘s web-presence into that other realm of creativity: words, the sound and feel of our creative souls put to paper. I am lucky enough to have many resources from which to draw upon for such works:  members of my own writing groups, gifted acquaintances and friends from a large Saratoga/Capital Region creative community (including myriad open mics and the Hudson Valley Writers Guild), SisterWriters in the International Womens’ Writing Guild, and the relatively new Women Writers and Artists Matrix. I’ve already asked a few friends to check their files for short food-related pieces they’d like to submit, and I expect to be widening my range of “invitations” soon. Gotta start slow – this won’t happen overnight, and a flood of yummy writing would probably weigh me down with more reading than I could handle while still trying to offer recipes online too!

I will date each entry on this Page so readers will know when it was posted. Also, for every writer (other than myself), I’ll add a short bio blurb. Otherwise, it’s pure creativity – poetry, prose, drama, whatever.

Please be aware that any writing on this blog will be the creative expression of a particular artist/writer and, therefore, they automatically hold its copyright. While sharing for educational purposes is permissible by law, reprinting it for general distribution – whether in print or online – is not. If you’d like for friends to see something on this page, it’s preferable that you copy the hyperlink that can route them here since permission will have been granted by the artist/writer to print the particular work on Kitchen Cauldron.

To begin, I posted one of my own poems – while I awaited the words of others for review and publishing. (Each subsequent work is inserted above the previous one, so readers can easily access the most current literary addition.)

~November 13, 2012~

(after Deborah Harding’s “How I Knew Harold”)
by Marilyn Zembo Day

Sometime in 1971 Carol, Chris and I throw snowballs at each other outside Stonehenge Apartments. It is 3:30 a.m. and the bars closed half an hour ago. Our much older neighbors slumber in their beds. Probably sober too.

Sometime in 1947 Mom climbs three flights of stairs to Aunt Mary’s and Uncle Champ’s flat, eats spaghetti and meatballs and goes into labor. I am born with a pointy head. Mom later tells me, over and over again, that I looked like Dinny Dimwit.

Sometime in 1968 Roy sends me six red roses for my twenty-first birthday.

Sometime in 1958 I spend the night at Susan’s house. We practice kissing, just in case Richie corners one of us near the school yard and wants a smooch. Susan tells me how a boy and girl do it but I don’t believe her. It sounds gross… and impossible.

Sometime in 1959 my father buys me a clunky, gray, used Remington office typewriter. He says, “Girls should learn how to type.” He also tells me girls shouldn’t go to college.

Sometime in 1987 my daughter and her friend are in the kitchen with me. I am making cookies for Sunday school youth group. Kristen asks, “How old were you, Mom, when you first did it with a guy? I drop my spatula.

Sometime in 1956 my brother George’s teacher pulls me out of my fourth grade classroom to witness her yelling at him for failing a spelling test. “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” My mother is pissed off but she won’t call Mrs. Benson to complain.

Sometime in 1969 Roy and I park on Krumkill Road to make out. I toss my underpants out the window before he drives me home.

Sometime in 1965 I am accepted at State University of New York at Albany, early decision plan. They require a $50 deposit. My father says girls shouldn’t go to college. My mother takes out a loan against a life insurance policy to cover the deposit and Christmas presents.

Sometime in 1971 Lloyd sends me two dozen roses. He tells me he is married. His wife is expecting their second child. Oops. The night we met, the song playing on his car radio was I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.

Sometime in 2006 my cousin Mary spends an entire day of her vacation cooking her mother’s famous spaghetti sauce with meatballs and sausage. She and her husband are staying with my brother George. I bring home sauce and sausage to freeze for future consumption

Sometime in 1978 Bill and I host a party. Roy brings a date. Mary says to Carol and me that Roy is probably the only guy at the party who’s slept with four of the women in the room (assuming he’s already slept with his date). We compare notes.

In mid-November 1972 my water breaks at 6 a.m. during the first snow storm of the season. After a half hour of Bill’s digging the VW out of the snow and seventeen hours of my own labor, I have a caesarean section. Our daughter’s head is perfectly rounded.

Sometime in 1968 I quit college, for the first but not the last time.

Sometime in 2005 I begin seeking an agent for my novel. First choices are those who take e-mail submissions because they’re just a few easy keystrokes away. Girls should learn to type.

Probably Sober was previously published in Akros Review (U. of Akron).

Game Night: Swanson’s TV Dinners and Merv
by Don Levy

I don’t think
They call them TV dinners anymore.
Nights when my mom
Would come in late from real estate,
My dad would have 4 dinners
In the oven. No microwave in the 70’s,
No cellophane to puncture so you can
Zap your food in mere minutes.
No these babies had to bake in the oven
From a half hour to 45 minutes.
My brother Steve and I would get out
The TV trays with the rusted legs
From way back in the basement
And set them around the couch.
Once the meals were ready,
I would love to hear the sound
Of tinfoil crinkling, exposing
The hot bubbly meal inside.
My favorite entrée was Salisbury steak,
Smothered in so much brown gravy
I didn’t mind it smothered in onions.
Meatloaf was good too but the turkey
Was always too dry and too much dark meat
For my liking. My friend Bev called
The chocolate pudding “molten”.
Perhaps pudding was not meant to be heated.
I liked the cherry cobblers but my favorite
Were the tater tots which I still remember
How good they tasted 40 years ago,
Still imagine their salty goodness on my tongue.
You had to be careful because the underbellies
Would stick to the tray
And you would have to engineer your fork
Or knife under to save the tot’s skin.
And of course they tasted better
Lightly drizzled with ketchup.

I wonder what my mom thought
When she’d see her 3 men in the living room,
TV trays in front of us as we’d watch
Merv Griffin banter with Mrs. Miller
Or interview the great old comics
Like Jack Benny, Milton Berle or George Burns.
My mom would kiss my dad on the head
While my brother and I would laugh
At a joke Groucho Marx or Henny Youngman made
While washing our dry turkey with stuffing down
With a large glass of whole milk.

Don Levy is another mainstay on the local poetry scene, facilitating a poetry open mic called LIVE FROM THE LIVINGROOM, once a month at Albany’s Pride Center.

~April 27, 2012~

A poem by Mary Panza, Albany’s “poetry diva”:

And the women cooked…

Chicken with peas, special genets, cold cut trays, olives, cookies, pasta and wine.
My mother died on Halloween. Trick or treat took on a whole new meaning. “This way you will never forget me,” she says to me in my dreams. Laughs at me from the other side.

And the women cooked

They come to the house quietly, set up, take over your kitchen, pour your wine, make your coffee, arrange the grief buffet, clean, and mourn. They do this as a matter of course, “it is just what you do.” Their mothers did the same things. You keep your mouth shut and just make sure things are clean. Make sure glasses are filled. They are in charge.

And the women cooked

You see, your revolution meant nothing to us. We already did everything. We opened our own doors, worked, cooked, cleaned, and raised a generation of women that take no shit. Work is a masterful science to us. Is it better to live in filth and ideas? We don’t think so. My mother kept a clean house, made a perfect meatball, and smiled through fat lips.

And the women cooked

I am alone without her. To do things for myself without her on the other end of 3934. My house is broken, old and leaky. But it is clean. Food in the pantry, the fridge and both freezers. My daughter does well in school, is creative and put together, and takes no shit. She could twirl her spaghetti at 8 months old, knows when the pasta dough needs more flour, and that Nanny’s meatballs need to be fried and not baked.

And the women cooked

That revolution worked for everyone but us. I have no use for it. Dinner still needs to be on the table. Manners still need to be enforced. Your life will be measured by the women that show up in your kitchen and take over. Chicken with peas, special genets, cold cut trays, olives, cookies, pasta and wine.

And the women cooked

Mary Panza, a mainstay on the Albany poetry scene since 1988, has witnessed countless open mics, naked poets, fires, drunks, chapbooks, career changes, organizations (both coming and going), festivals and great poetry/spoken word. She is Vice President of Albany Poets and host of POETS SPEAK LOUD!, a monthly open mic scheduled for the last Monday of each month at McGeary’s tavern in Albany. Mary was on her way to living the rest of her life as a party girl

~April 11, 2012~

Laid Off Summer
          by Carol Graser

That July the raspberries grew
like slow fireworks, long arcing branches
that tangled into fruit. I scratched
my way to the red globes
ruby princesses, shy
smilers dangling with thorns
It was the over-pruning two years
before that caused the explosion —
that wealth. I’d squat in the wet grass
and peer into brambles, spying
out ripeness, reach in for the light
squeeze that, if ready, pops
them off with no stem. Scarlet
shades piled in the bucket. Those
delicate plumps, those seedy drupelets
I struggled not to complain at abundance
the daily, hot chore of collecting
and storing. I’d pour cold raspberry
sauce over the gray folds of my brain
let the sweet tart soak and stain
flavor me bright red
and less bitter

Carol Graser lives in Providence, a tiny hamlet in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. She has read her poetry at community events including fund-raisers, anti-war rallies and as a featured reader at several poetry open mics. She has also worked with an accomplished jazz composer and a percussionist, creating performance pieces that blend music and poetry. She hosts a monthly poetry reading series at Saratoga’s legendary Caffe Lena. Her poetry has appeared in regional journals such as Metroland as well as in numerous national publications like Berkeley Poetry Review, The Worcester Review, The MacGuffin and Eureka Literary Magazine. Her first book of poetry, The Wild Twist of Their Stems was published with Foothills Publishing in 2007.

~March 29, 2012~

At Dunkin Donuts
          by Bob Sharkey

There’s a scary looking guy.
His tongue’s hanging way out.
At least he’s taking his meds.
I got here in a lunchtime stupor
with the tumble of years in mind.
How had they passed so quickly?
As if I need some punctuation,
young hand-holders pass by outside.
I want to be them. Not just him.
Her especially. I want to be her.
From a corner table, three young cops
belt out a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”
The sun comes out unexpectedly after
days of grey, highlights the bright colors
of fruit and vegetables piled up
on a long table over at the intersection.
I head out past the big pink tongue.
There’s also a guy in a motorized chair.
He’s wearing a medical wristband.
Like a pair of abandoned wrecks.
I look for an attendant, for a van outside.
A woman on line’s doing the same.
The line’s long. She’s at the end.
The lot’s full. Everyone’s in a hurry.
Me too. I’d like to linger,
to uncover the mystery of the two guys.
There’s work and meetings. The sun.

Boiling Point
(after Carol Graser’s poem “Digging Breakfast”)
          by Bob Sharkey

You pan-steam some fresh asparagus,
not sure if that will work.
The lid vibrates, releases their sweet aroma.
You beam as if you’ve just invented something.
In the other room, the one who’s left
behind in your care is leafing through
the latest Junior’s Cheesecake catalog.
You’ve got a pot of Mexican rice simmering,
swordfish in the broiler to attend to.
The frustration and the anger that
out there some are leading “normal” lives
dissolve as everything comes together
to form the perfect evening meal.
You raise a glass of dry white wine
as if to toast the moment.

Busgirl At The Clambake
          by Bob Sharkey

A man asked, “Where’s the hardware?”
“Oh, you mean the fox,” she said.
I loved that.
She could have tried something easier,
pronounced “knives” instead of “knifes.”
Surely, “spoons” would have been no problem.
She said, “Oh, you mean the fox.”

Bob Sharkey (Robert L. Sharkey) writes prose and poetry, participates in the open mic scene in and around Albany NY, and is active with the Hudson Valley Writers Guild.

~March 23, 2012~

          by Cheryl Rice

Last night my boyfriend made potato latkes,
jalapeno popper latkes, with the hot peppers minced in
with the potatos, and sharp cheddar cheese grated
and laid in the center between two thin pancakes.
They were perfect. Just the tiniest surprise of heat
in almost every bite. We topped them with
fat-free Greek yogurt as a joke.

Afterwards, I drempt I was in an improv play,
and I was a rabbi. I was terrible.
The best line I came up with was,
“New Jersey is nice.” I misplaced
the bottom of my costume and had to go on
in my pajama pants. I heard Bob Hope in drag
while I was backstage say my name,
and when he came back to speak to the cast,
he said he was somebody else, but I knew better.

          by Cheryl Rice

Plump leather Buddhas,
toothless alligators plop from the tree,
cream goddess innards rust in the kiss
of atmosphere, kitchen’s rare air.
Self-made bowls fit to hand,
teaspoon, mayonnaise, ketchup
fill hole where seed-soul was born,
inedible brain bagged in brown.
Toothpick tripod suspends seed above glass.
With water, sun, luck, a single shoot
thrusts up into cabinets.
It only takes a seed to start a grove,
one tree for a guacamole factory.
From glass to pot to barrel,
windows in winter– mine, just before
spring cracks lip of crocus,
warms over mud to bloom, bacterial perfume,
sheds leaves like scales from carefully cultivated,
restarted branches, wakes from seedling dreams,
finds itself in northern living room,
warm drafts between blasts of front door freeze,
sparkles of Christmas packed away,
sun metered out in miserly increments.
I’ll try again. I love to watch the small brains split,
scientific experiments, wounds around toothpick holes
brown like three dingy dimples
at the mouth of genius.

Lunch in Newburgh
          by Cheryl Rice

On the drive in to Newburgh,
Stacey Earle’s country red skirt,
swirls in the CD player.
I go boldly to the wrong school
to interview, if available, the guidance
counselor of a young, dead gangster,
then look for the Hispanic Catholic Center,
division of St. Patrick’s in this divided city
where the crucifix unites all in blood and fear,
where Mexicans challenge Blacks for
title of, ‘Best Loved Minority,’
Mom & Pop taco stands bullet Broadway
between Jamaican jerk joints, handmade beauty parlors,
ecstatic storefront salvation, your choice of
tongue, forked in several directions.

Center closed ’til one, I stroll the elegant ghetto,
admire intricate gingerbread windows
sheathed in plywood, pink stoop
leading up to grey door, ‘No Trespassing,’
among chop shop apartments, former mansions
made before Desi and Lucy tried out their
new act at the Ritz, before slate sidewalks,
brick curbs warped with the decades.

I go for lunch on an internal dare, and
it’s new renovations, oasis of reconstruction
in port of desperation, frosted sconces
above each table, clean, shiny menus,
garlic knots exquisite loaves of careful bread.
I order spinach salad, grilled chicken,
try to minimize damage of another fast food meal,
resist temptations of the fat cartoon chefs
who insist I mangia without a care for
high cholesterol, impending diabetes.

Chicken real and white, red pepper, integrity roasted in,
mushroom slices hidden under hefty thatch of greens,
lemon and olive dressing inspiring glorious mess
into one uplifting resurrection of rehashed reporter.
Revival inspires forbidden purchase—
eggplant parm hero, which lasts
all night and part of tomorrow,
forbidden because my lover knows
the healing power of purple-skinned flesh,
mozzarella securing squash to bun ,
yet not really squash, not green, yellow,
dime store veggies that overrun gardens,
pretend to be legitimate sides for
leg of lamb, beef roast, pork hearts & minds,

Now I know why he tried to discourage me.
It purpled my own heart, loosened my brain,
I go back through Newburgh, city of
Ferry Godmother, Your Honor the Tailor,
three piece platforms and an extra set of promise,
city silent in winter as a four-year old hidden from
his mother, police, Santa Claus,
napping under laps of ice in the Hudson.
I go back through Newburgh, unafraid,
write the impossible story about 17 and over, done,
his boxing coach, his priest my only sources,
then clear the papers of various typos
with sweeping magic wand eyes,
Magna Carta, War of the Worlds, Shakespeare’s
sonnets combined after I’m done.

Then later that night, as per Dan Proper,
I’m at the movies, make love like Sophia Loren,
Asian almond eyes squeezed shut in throes of the feature,
trailers finished, popcorn a memory of things past.
Now I know why he hates eggplant.
It’s the clarity, the absolute truth.
Eggplant has the power to make women weep,
long for the cozy bed, two gentlemen of Verizon,
and a partridge in a fig tree.
Eggplant’s dusky flesh is ink, flow for the brain,
sauce for the soul, breadcrumbs seeds
of the next screaming headline,
“Woman Finds Soul, Loses All Else!”

Cheryl A. Rice, born and raised on Long Island, has lived in New York’s Hudson Valley for over thirty years. Founder and host of the extinct Sylvia Plath Bake-Off, her work has appeared in Home Planet News, Mangrove, NYQuarterly, and the Temple, among others.

~March 14, 2012~

Eating Up the Moment
          by Jodi Ackerman Frank

I have love on my mind.
Consumption a must.
Moist lips and tongue
cold, melting ice cream;
a tub full of bubbles;
salmon and red potatoes
on the grill;
cooking in my bare feet;
a bed with fluffy pillows;
eating in my pajamas;
Pop Tarts for dessert;
you—to consummate the moment.

Jodi Ackerman Frank is a freelance writer and editor in Saratoga Springs. In her spare time, she writes poetry and personal essays.

~March 13, 2012~

          by Dan Wilcox

Warm soft pastry fresh from the oven
tender flakes
sharp crystals of colored sugar
green, red, brown
the cream inside yellow and sweet
like eggs beaten with sugar
melting on my tongue
dripping down my chin
la croûte crumbling
les beignets au chocolat.

Such are these delights at the table
like smiles like “bon” like “je veux”
you want to take them with you
wrapped in linen in baskets
tour the house with them
taste tarts in each room
lie down with éclairs on french sheets
in morning light fresh like curls
of golden croissants
swelling warm in the oven.

The Clever Cleaver
(a painting by Tommy Watkins, UAG Gallery, Albany, NY)
          by Dan Wilcox

What’s for dinner?
the utensils seem to ask.
The squid asks the same
becoming dinner itself

(vodka & orange juice with melon-flavored schnapps, chilled & strained into a round snifter; served with Hershey miniatures or candy corn on the side)
          by Dan Wilcox

“Don’t I know you?” she asked
after her third double vodka and tonic before Happy Hour.
She looked like she had applied her makeup
while in the back seat of the #55 bus from Schenectady
just after her stop for her wardrobe at the Costumer on Central Ave.
“I’ve been your bartender for the better part of this lovely afternoon,” I told her.
“No,” she brightened half a watt, “where did you go to high school?”
I gave her the name of the suburban mega-school that my brother had attended
but not me.
“I thought I recognized you,” she said.
She told me her school year, two years behind me.
And then I recognized her:
a teeny-bopper ordering a cherry coke with a shot of chocolate syrup
at the lunch counter where I worked after school.
Still no beauty, I realized then, as now, that
to take her home I’d had to be drunk
out of my gourd.

Dan Wilcox is the host of the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center in Albany, N.Y. and is a member of the poetry performance group 3 Guys from Albany. As a photographer, he claims to have the world’s largest collection of photos of unknown poets.

Another Dream Bites the Dust
          by Mary Armao McCarthy

The realization
that I will never
get the spinach
cleaned and cooked
comes slowly.

I was so sure
when I bought it.
now it sits
damply wilting
a death throe
of soft inevitability.

On Basil
          by Mary Armao McCarthy

“Basil,” seven-year-old Noah announced to his pediatrician when asked to name a food he eats that is green. “We’re Italian,” explained his mother.

My daughter Christine laughed as she told me about my grandson’s inspired response. Basil is just one of varied benchmarks in my family for being Italian. In my kitchen one summer day, Christine had rolled her eyes at me for adding fragrant green cuttings from my patio basil plants to sandwiches we were making for guests who included four children under the age of three. She felt the situation called for speed not technique. But her friend Kate forever settled the issue when she took one bite and sighed, “Mmmmmm… basil.”

Mary Armao McCarthy is published in anthologies, periodicals and literary magazines. A past president of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, she has worked in education and public policy. She is a recipient of the women of the year award by the NYS Center for Women and Civil Society. Mary and her family produce HappyHere Greeting Cards which support programs for children. Her hobbies are swimming and trying to lose a few pounds.

~March 6, 2012~

How to hand out produce at the food pantry
          by Kelly de la Rocha

There will be a line
and it will be noisy
and the people will be exhausted
from waiting so long
with hungry children;
with a diabetic mother
whose sugar is getting low;
with a leg missing;
with an appointment to get to;
with worries they’ll hoist up on the counter
in trade for bags full of pasta and sauce,
rice and beans, day-old bread,
and never enough
of anything.
So you hold out your hand
and take the sweaty bingo chip
they’ve been clutching.
You can tell
from the barely legible number
on it how many people are in their family,
but they will tell you there are others
not represented on the chip –
grandchildren who come to stay,
an out-of-work brother who just moved in.
“Can you give me a little extra?” they plead.
You gauge your answer
by the number of soft potatoes, old carrots,
wilted lettuce, aging apples
and bruised pears on the shelves.
Ask yourself, “How far will these over-ripe bananas stretch?”
“How many eggplants do I need
to make sure there’s one for Carmen,
the sweet retired nurse at the end of the line?”
Tell them you’ll give them as much as you can,
and mean it.
Look into their eyes.
Ask them how they are doing.
Really listen to the answer.
Answer back.
Then fill their bags with produce.

Kelly de la Rocha started playing with words at the age of six months and hasn’t stopped since. A reporter for The Daily Gazette, a poet, a mom and a dedicated volunteer, she draws inspiration from every facet of her life. Her poetry has been featured in the Syracuse Cultural Workers Women Artists Datebook, the chapbook Poems from 84th Street, Chronogram Magazine; Four and Twenty‘s online journal; Upstream and Folded Word Press’ e-publication, unFold.

~March 4, 2012~

Chopping Onions
          by Lesley Tabor

I am chopping onions.
Are these tears simply
trying to wash away
onion gas?

Can I wash away the sting
of pepper gas in New York,
bleeding heads in Oakland?
Do weep for onions or for

Grief that we didn’t yet succeed
in making the world safe for our
children, and their

Rage that force once again
tries to squash the voice of the people
in the land of the free .

Tears drip into a pool, reflect
the hope of youth rising,
elders at their backs,
people joining hands,
lifting hearts,
refusing to be stopped..

Chopped onions flavor the
people’s stew.

Lesley Tabor is a life-long writer and seeker of personal and cultural healing, and a retired therapist and healthcare administrator. She’s currently involved with Occupy Albany. She has published poems and essays in several anthologies, and self-published two poetry chapbooks. She journals for growth and healing, writes poetry for connection, and has written three novels. She lives in East Schodack, NY.

~March 4, 2012~

          by Marilyn Zembo Day

Chai latte is an invitation into a harem where
Scheherazade spins her tales, always leaving
the listener aching for more. Cinnamon on
tongue, I am spellbound by swirling foam,
a cloud upon which naked toes dance.
Cardamon hides in pockets under pillow-
breasts, in the secret crevices of pleasure.
A hint of nutmeg, tart with dangerous promise,
entices hips into tantalizing movement.

Belly thrusts forward, its own rhythmic entreaty:
there is a story here – listen… there is story…
there is only story. I am this hot, sweet tea,
smooth to swallow, bold and spicy, rich with
the milkiness of woman’s knowing. I will
nurture you but, first, I must lure you into
the garden where myth and memory interweave
and I will make you mine for all time. Accept
the invitation. Come – fill your belly with words.

Marilyn Zembo Day‘s work has appeared in a variety media, including Akros Review, Knock, the Hudson Valley Writers Guild’s Peer Glass journal and OASIS Journal 2005. Her essays have aired on local public radio. Marilyn is founder and facilitator of the local women’s writing collective, WomanWords, established in 1997, inspired by the annual “Remember the Magic” conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG). She has been leading writing and creativity-enhancing workshops for over 16 years.


~March 3, 2012~ 

The Sacrament of Sushi
          by Leslie Neustadt

I sit alone at the sushi bar.
My son, now a chef,
serves me Kegoni sunomomo.
Hairy crab from Hokaido,
fashioned as a flower,
crowned with chrysanthemum.
Moments later, Benjamin
comes bearing Akamutsu,
a strand of snapper
laid upon a sliver of daikon
adorned with shiso flowers.
I savor the edible haiku.

I imagine my father
beside me, resurrected.
He claims Benjamin
as his own, though he
barely knew him.
He seeks redemption
from Benjamin’s
knife worn hands.
Tastes his seasoning
in Benjamin’s passion.
I wrestle with this gluttonous ghost.
Remember the bacchanalia of his life.

Benjamin reappears with katsu dashi,
a delicate broth of golden mushrooms,
cradled in a wooden vessel,
slender as sea shell. I take
the wooden chalice.
Chant Kaddish again.
My son offers me
persimmon, fruit of the gods.
Plucked from Japan,
its ripe orange flesh iced sweet.
We share the sacrament of sushi.

The Salt Wars, Circa 2010
          by Leslie Neustadt

Trade routes …were established, alliances built,
empires secured, and revolutions provoked
all for something that fills the ocean, [and]
bubbles up from springs …
          -Mark Kurlansky, Salt, A World History

We eye each other warily.
No longer certain of the steps
in this lifelong dance of mother and son.
He brash, I bedeviled in this covenant of salt.
Salt the latest skirmish, rife with rocky deposits.
Salt, preserver and provocateur.
For my son, Ben, salt is the Holy Grail.
Salting a rite of sanctification.

He creates crystalline castles
with fleur de sel from Provence.
Sprinkles holy bread with salt
blackened in Hawaiian volcanoes.
Coaxes the scarlet flesh of heirloom tomatoes
to give up their souls for our pleasure.
Bathes turbot in brine until it bursts
forth like the evening star.

Unrefined, I season our food
with worried grains.
Fret over findings.
Consumed by medical studies,
I miss salt’s transcendence.

When I take up Ben’s salty challenge,
I recall how we dip greens in salt
to remember our ancestors’ tears.
I remember blessing my sons:
Become the salt of the earth.

Leslie Neustadt is a retired attorney and writer. Her work has been published in Cure Poetica; Akros Review; Prick of the Spindle; Peer Glass, an Anthology: Writings from Hudson Valley Peer Groups ; Uneven Furrows of Our Own Design, a poetic medicine anthology; and other magazines and journals. She has read her work as part of the Memoir Project at the Art Center of the Capital District and has been a featured poet at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center. She is a member of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and an active participant in WomanWords activities.


~February 27, 2012~

Facing Down Death With A Spatula
          by Judith Prest

          When I was young, I didn’t know how to stand up to death with kitchen implements. It is a skill I am refining in my middle age. It works like this: The phone rings, or maybe I open the morning paper and news of death enters my house and my consciousness. First thoughts: It can’t be true, it can’t possibly – not this person, not now, not like this! Then my heart sinks, my spirit recoils from the blow of this reminder that we are not in control and every day is a gift. If I’m lucky, this is followed by tears and conversations with others who also feel the loss. Then it is time to go to work.

          The dead don’t need to eat, but the living do. I reach for my falling-apart Betty Crocker cookbook, the late sixties edition with the bright red cover, a gift from my mother when I left home for the first time at eighteen. The recipe I need isn’t printed in the book; it is scrawled on the white end page just before the back cover: my mother’s pound cake recipe. I have to concentrate on measuring, combining, getting it right because I don’t bake often. I focus on the richness of butter, sugar, the scent of vanilla, lemon, almond, the orange/gold of egg yolk. I remember the symbolism of eggs, round and rich, holding life within a fragile shell. This is not a time to be concerned with cholesterol.

          Facing death spurs me to action. Something has to be done. Never mind that we can’t turn back the calendar and make it not be true, never mind that no words will neutralize this pain. News of loss sends me into the kitchen to create something sweet and life affirming, something to bring to the house of sorrow, an offering of love and connection. Death rips holes in families and communities. When death arrives at the door of a friend or a neighbor, I feel a need to offer some small threads to help re-weave the fabric.

          While I bake, I wrestle with the perception that life is really just a series of losses. Baking pound cake is my way of whistling in the dark, grounding myself in the physical world so I can find my way back to solid footing to be present for myself and the people I love. Strength and wisdom come at a price – they come with the choice to face down death in whatever ways we can, make peace with the inevitability of loss and change, and dance anyway.

Judith Prest is a poet, writer, collage artist and expressive arts practitioner in Duanesburg, NY. She read Facing Down Death with a Spatula on WAMC Listener Essays some years ago. Judith has published two poetry collections and two chapbooks and her work has appeared in Chronogram, Daughters of the Earth, Recovering the Self Journal, Mad Poets Review, Akros Review and in several anthologies.


~February 24, 2012~

          by Marilyn Zembo Day

Scanning ingredients,
          I sample
          a blend of basil, parsley, oregano,
          savoring the hills of Tuscany,
          although I may never walk them.
          I detect the yeasty scent of rising
          dough. Pugliese mamas offer cartellate,
          drizzled with syrupy sweetness of
          kitchens centuries-old. Roman vineyards
          call to me. I listen, respond with
          longing and answer with swish of
          wooden spoon, sizzle of olive oil,
          anticipating un pasto delizioso.

Reviewing a recipe,
          I breathe in
          the heat of red pepper flakes,
          of jalapeño, and dance eye-to-eye,
          fingertips to swollen lips.
          I am somewhere south of Texas
          with lovers never known, forever
          waiting. Una señora americana
          without passport, I toy with
          tortillas dripping with dreams
          of cocinas infused with generations
          of abuelas sweating over flames,
          teaching a culture to cook.

Closing a book,
          I am comforted
          by the honeyed folding
          of memory into nourishment,
          culinary journey as sustenance.
          I can almost taste them:
          Pierogi, moussaka, cassoulet,
          baklava, samosa, latke, naan:
          To relish a cuisine is to begin
          to understand a people.
          Perhaps peace
                    is just a spoonful away.

Marilyn Zembo Day‘s fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in a variety of print media, including literary journals such as Akros Review, Knock, the Hudson Valley Writers Guild’s Peer Glass journal and OASIS Journal 2005. Her essays have aired on local public radio, WAMC. Marilyn is founder and facilitator of the local women’s writing collective, WomanWords, established in 1997, inspired by the annual “Remember the Magic” conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG). She has been leading writing and creativity-enhancing workshops for over 16 years.

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