Poetry and cooking

As someone who loves both, I was so pleased to see this inventive political poem in the Paris Review archives:

Little Cambray Tamales

          (makes 5,000,000 little tamales)
        —for Eduardo and Helena who asked me
   for a Salvadoran recipe

Two pounds of mestizo cornmeal
half a pound of loin of gachupin
cooked and finely chopped
a box of pious raisins
two tablespoons of Malinche milk
one cup of enraged water
a fry of conquistador helmets
three Jesuit onions
a small bag of multinational gold
two dragon’s teeth
one presidential carrot
two tablespoons of pimps
lard of Panchimalco Indians
two ministerial tomatoes
a half cup of television sugar
two drops of volcanic lava
seven leaves of pito
(don’t be dirty-minded, it’s a soporific)
put everything to boil
over a slow fire
for five hundred years
and you’ll see how tasty it is.
Claribel Alegría
Translated by Darwin J. Flakoll

From the Japanese

Another gem from Poetry Daily. I love naming and disintegration play against each other in this poem, vowels scattered. And benthic, a wonderful word, new to me.

A Thousand Vowels

A long slope.
The strong sun dipped, and finally sank.
No matter how long I walked, I stayed in “the middle of the road.”
The name torn into pieces.
Just keeping on, climbing higher and higher,
I’d completely forgotten the name.
The west wind shifts the typhoon’s course,
the world, for a few hours, is thrown into confusion.
You might name one thing after another,
but each loses its name in that same moment.
Into what we call “nature.”
I stood in the middle of nature.
And something was missing, the natural was
draped in a thin shroud.
Vowels scattered,
the name went missing.
When once more the name “nature” was applied
to the desolate-as-ever landscape,
immediately, the name began to weather away.
What is still losing its name,
and what has already lost its name,
those two strands entwine
around the true name.
Those who have wings stay put,
howling out their condition over and over,
“How fragile we are!”
though no one hears them.
Thousands of ripples tell
a story of benthic anguish.
The ripples beach themselves
on the name of each anguish,
vowels scatter by the thousands
over the earth.

Shuri Kido, translated from the Japanese by Tomoyuki Endo and Forrest Gander


Monday poem on Tuesday

Another poem courtesy of Poetry Daily.

Waiting for Your Call

The light retreats and is generous again.
No you to speak of, anywhere—neither in vicinity nor distance, 

so I look at the blue water, the snowy egret, the lace of its feathers
shaking in the wind, the lake—no, I am lying.

There are no egrets here, no water. Most of the time,
my mind gnaws on such ridiculous fictions.

My phone notes littered with lines like Beauty will not save you.
Or: mouthwash, yogurt, cilantro.

A hummingbird zips past me, its luminescent plumage
disturbing my vision like a tiny dorsal fin.

But what I want does not appear. Instead, I find the redwoods and pines,
figs that have fallen and burst open on the pavement,

announcing that sickly sweet smell,
the sweetness of grief, my prayer for what is gone.

You are so dramatic, I say to the reflection on my phone,
then order the collected novels of Jean Rhys.

She, too, was humiliated by her body, that it wanted
such stupid, simple things: food and cherry wine, to touch someone.

On my daily walk, I steal Meyer lemons from my neighbors’ yard,
a small pomegranate. Instead of eating them,

I observe their casual rot on the kitchen counter,
this theatre of good things turning into something else.

Aria Aber

Back home

Already the week in Costa Rica is beginning to fade in the chill morning fog of the Bay Area, but it was such a deep pleasure to experience the tropical rain forrest, a week when I was never cold, when I awoke each morning to monkeys and sometimes was awakened by them. A few times the troupe of Howler Monkeys that lived in the tall trees near the house would start their eerie and very loud calls at four in the morning. The locals said the Howlers “called the rain.” I don’t know about that, but they were compelling!

Here is your monkey poem from Amiee Nezhukumatathil, and a photo of a white-faced monkey taken from our deck–for us this was closer to our 53rd anniversary.

First Anniversary with Monkeys

                 Periyar Nature Preserve

There is no crumbly frozen cake to thaw.
Today, we are in the jungle. I mean mosquito. I mean

tigers and elephants sludging their way
to the lake for a drink and Don’t make sudden moves

or snakes startled from an afternoon nap
will greet you fang first. I think we are lost. Too hot

for any cold confection to survive. Even my tube
of sunblock is as warm as a baby’s bottle. You get

to those places I can’t reach, those places I dared
not even whisper before I walked down the aisle

in white. You never worried if our families
would clash, if they would clang like the clutch

of pale monkeys clanging the thin branches of the treetrops,
begging for our trail mix. You never worried

about my relatives staring at your pale, muscled calves—
things not usually seen outside of the bedroom. You wore

hiking shorts anyway. And still, they lavished ladle-fuls
of food on your plate. I think we are lost. My eyes are dark

and wet as that wild deer that walked right past us,
a little off the trail. I think we are lost, but for once

I don’t mind. Eventually you turn us back to a place
not on any map, but I know I can trace it back with my finger

if we ever need it again. We made it one year
without a compass and we’re not about to start now.

In Costa Rica

I took this photo yesterday in Manuel Antonio National Park, and then found this poem by Yuseff Komunyakaa.


If you’re one of seven
Downfalls, up in your kingdom
Of mulberry leaves, there are men
Betting you aren’t worth a bullet,

That your skin won’t tan into a good
Wallet. As if drugged in the womb
& limboed in a honeyed languor,
By the time you open your eyes

A thousand species have lived
& died. Born on a Sunday
Morning, with old-world algae
In your long hair, a goodness

Disguised your two-toed claws
Bright as flensing knives. In this
Upside-down haven, you’re reincarnated
As a fallen angel trying to go home.


All things Korean

I am a little embarrassed that I have discovered K-dramas, the vast output of Korean soap operas on Netflix. My favorite so far is Navillera (Butterfly) about a 70-year-old retired postman who has always wanted to study ballet. I like the glimpse into modern Korea they provide. I also have discovered a Korean poet whose sensibility appeals to me, Ko Un.  Here’s a sample of his work. I like how how he uses the gradual blossoming of spring flowers to knit his divided country together:

The News of Flowers

Spring. Everything’s liberated.
The news of flowers
eases the poverty of this world.
Throughout this fractured country
(some say it’s a pity,
others not so)
spring has come full force.
An azalea blooming at Cheju Island
in the very south,
after a few days
begins blossoming
across the sea
in Southern Cheolla
& Southern Kyeongsang.
A few days later
& it reaches the shore of the Han, mid-country,
& all along the Soyang River.
About a month later
around Hyesan
on the upper reaches of the Yalu, North Korea: blossoms.
At the end of May
about 2700 meters up
by a cold spring at the treeline
azaleas bloom in many colors.
This is enough.
One cannot wish for more.
Where could things be better than among the flowers of a spring day?
So with South & North: gradually, evenly.

translated by Young Moo Kim

The exemplary sentence

Thanks to Ben Dolnick, I have discovered the mystery writer Lawrence Block. Oddly enough, he’s not in my local public library catalog, but only at UC Library. Unusual for a mystery writer, even one with literary talent. His books are a little hard to find. I love this passage from his Matthew Scudder mystery, Out on the Cutting Edge. In it, the narrator, an unabashed criminal is describing a young woman:

” ‘She was a nice Protestant girl from Indiana,’ he said. ‘She’d steal, but she stole for the thrill of it. You can’t trust that, it’s almost as bad as a man who kills for the thrill of it. A good thief doesn’t steal for the thrill. He steals for the money. And the best thief of all steals because he’s a thief.’ ”

In another vein entirely, but equally pleasurable, here’s a quote from Eliot Weinberger from his essay in In Translation:

“Translators sometimes feel they share in the glory of their famous authors, rather like the hairdressers of Hollywood stars.”

So much for what I’m reading today.

Ukrainian Poets

This is from a book called Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine. Of course, the poems here come from the 2014 war, not the current one. How sad for this poor, tattered country.

When a country of — overall — nice people
turns — slowly — fascist
nice people don’t notice this transformation all at once

As when a person we know intimately
goes, next to us, through
an imperceptible process of aging. Imperceptibly, new wrinkles
slice the skin, frightening, deep.

Nice people nod when they run into each other,
and try, more and more, to lower their eyes,

until finally, raising them becomes an inhuman gesture.

Lyudmyla Khersonska
translated by Valznya Mort