Poetry from Theodore Worozbyt
followed by Q&A
Garum and Lark’s Tongues
Unlike Vallejo, I can’t name pain yellow,
and I imagine the color of garum less
vividly than I see the shallow stone vessel
where it turns ripe and viscous.
Through studies of tabulas and scrolls,
I have ordered a pound of white truffles
overnight by jet to the contiguous states.
In the fourteen stations of the classical kitchen
I shave into a pillow of noodles
scalded to the tooth and creamed. I want
this bed I dream in covered with crisp roses
unhitched from their cut vase, the upholstery
of my crucible garnished with a layer of fungal
tissues fine enough for a brain-scan in the dark.
I want someone fat and pampered to roast
a clay-colored lump of foie gras in a web of caul,
some balsamic reduction sheened with butter
to pattern my plate with a darker splash.
Vintage Mumm’s to rinse my palate
of the spitted lark’s wine-dark breast
is what I want, and to be raised like a glass
myself, filled and bright and cold, to rise
like whites of eggs beaten and folded
and made golden by a flame. A toast!
Some rainy Thursday no one will show up
escaping from Paris with a sack filled with yeast
and a punk opera performed by Ukrainians
that climaxes in a hydrant of murderous passion
splashing beet-red and spraying twenty-three rows
with a juice indelibly flavored by the disgust
of children for blood-colored vegetables.
Butter an icicle radish with salt and cold
water from the hose and I will gnaw it in the sun.
Mash me a jar of fireflies and honey and blurb it
with the phosphored strokes of your fingertips.
Send me a recipe book filled with future errors
and haute glossies of yet another neutral country
where, having discovered nothing original
about love or time or pain; having discovered
only an image of the shape that contains them,
I will not be seen traveling, or dining well.
In the tiny hollow I planted the Peace rose and circled white wire around it to keep the ghosts out. Down the hill led to the creek where naked I threw the muddy water toward the sky and crawdaddys bit my feet. There was a tire swing that went everywhere but away. In its black round I ran barefoot down the roots and stones and leapt and threw myself around. Far up the creek lay the deep place by the trestle, and past that the pillows of granite rushing with clear curly rapids that purled around me as I slipped down arms up tasting the sweet mineral spray. I’d climb the hill back past the tangled windfall where the pine roots were exposed and crusted with red mud. And then the place where no one went was there, halfway up the hill, thick with fallen trunks, the moss on them densely quiet and small.
I was late, the box was early, but the driver
returned and I signed. Inside, another box.
Inside that, a tiny bottle of oil
for making navy bean soup holy. The blender
sends a steam whose coiling saffron fragrance
recalls summer’s links and brassy light,
and whose smoke spreads a sweet film over
my lips. At the bottom, the right-angle army
green flashlight, heavy as a light sidearm
when I heft it in my palm, my thumb pressed
on the steel belt clip, and then toward the switch.
The solid double click of the seed-sized
button sends a beam along the books of my wall,
Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples,
the Modern Library row. I slide the switch back
toward the dark and unscrew the thick, plastic,
wire-eyed base, spilling filters on my bedspread,
jeweled diffuser, white dimmer, the cobalt disc,
the twin reds that look so much like light poured
through the skin of my hand that I shine the thing
straight into my eyes for a couple of seconds,
involuntary, and I seem to hear the crisp
grunt of taut twine popping, the noise
of water at the shore that is the sound
of brown paper tearing, being torn. Here,
from then, rise the scents and images of distance,
a model kit for making the battleship trim
with decals and dangerous glue, the mess kit
of aluminum, the tines and spoon and dulled knife
clipped inside by steel, a vague wartime
of chocolate and stale shredded coconut bars
packed tight as a locker along crinkly sacks
of K and C rations, tins of stiff crackers and jam.
Dawn in the backyard woods with Bobby Ryan:
we eat scrambled eggs I’ve browned over a granite-
circled fire. I suck my burned thumb
and sniff the cold blue light of the dew.
The mess kit’s clank bumps against the brass-eyed
canvas of the tent. The poncho liner spreads
silky camouflage between dirt and my rump.
My Pekin duck quacks at the ribbed edge
of her plastic pool. The dove-tailed, hinged and
painted red boxes of my radium chemistry sets
smell like this morning. The garden department at the old
Sears on West Paces Ferry, with its outside
lit blue from within the walls, polishes the green
air with molecules of lime and peat and pearly
vermiculite as Grandpa unfolds the chunky leather
wallet from his hip and jokes with the girl
as she bags a one-armed oscillating sprinkler for my garden.
He relights the stub of his cigar and the Zippo darkens
the mock shell of his holder. I peel away
sleek layers of husk to let him praise a tiny
ear of corn and he is standing outside
my apartment door with my grandmother’s white gloves,
she is holding a basket of Fireball tomatoes
while I peek through the second story window,
twitching from the night of line after line of pink
coke and Buds, and watch his forehead turning
red in the morning sun, and I know he knows
I’m there but I don’t know how.
I stroke the helmet-
sized shell of the turtle painted poison silver
he found on Victory Drive on the way to the Post,
and the summer light is webbing shadow though
the shifting leaves of maples and ashes as I lie
on top of the shingled doghouse where all the turtles
gave up and I am watching maggots boil
though the tough flesh and the claws glitter like ground
diamonds on leaf mulch and the worn dirt. Ivory
skulls strip clean and to hold them in my hand
feels like skipping washed flat stones across
the creek-pool where I splash and swim and he
takes pictures with the accordion Polaroid Land
of my arms streaming up toward the laurels and the rinsed sky.
I say the closet-smell of turtle shit
is a fierce blessing, white as old candy pried
from the living room where no one’s supposed to sit.
No one overhears, and the secret will be just
between me, boxes named for me, and the slipcovers.
Theodore Worozbyt’s work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Image, Mississippi Review, Ploughshares, Po&sie, Poetry, Poetry Daily, Sentence, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, Verse Daily and The Best American Poetry. His first book, The Dauber Wings (Dream Horse Press, 2006), won the first American Poetry Journal Book Prize, and his second, Letters of Transit, was the winner of the 2007 Juniper Prize and was published in 2008. Scar Letters, a chapbook, is online at Beard of Bees Press.
Q: Discuss your process as a poet, what sparks a poem and how you work it through to completion (or abandonment.)
A: I try to pay attention, and not to abandon anything.
This group of poems spans a decade or more. The prose poem is recent, but not the verse.
Q: What did you collect as a child—rocks, insects, stamps?—and why?
A: I collected rocks and minerals; I still do. Everyone should own a copy of Herbert S. Zim’s Golden Guide to Rocks and Minerals.
Q: Spread for us a repast of your choosing, a meal fit for a poet.
A: I was for many years a professional cook, trained in the French system of apprenticeship, from potwasher to chef de cuisine, and I still love French food. Jacques Pèpin is a hero to me, and I think of him as the greatest living chef, the John Ashbery of gastronomy, a master so complete that any appearance of effort, like flame from brandy deglazing a pan, has disappeared. Mario Batali was asked to describe his ideal meal and he answered, “Anything that someone else cooks for me.” I love that. I remember my great grandmother and my grandmother standing in the kitchen, peeling and slicing the vegetables my grandfather had picked against their palms above the counter into the bowls, never on the cutting boards he had made, unless it was to slice the rectangular loaves of dense, heavy bread into thick slices to be spread with whipped butter instead of olive oil. There is an Italian dish that even Google can’t find, pasta padon, a thin tomato broth with lots of garlic and herbs and red pepper and vinegar, that is a kind of soup or stew of macaroni and potatoes, over which you grate a pile of Romano or Parmesan and devour with a big spoon. In the day it was made with the scraps of dried broken pasta of all kind you could get at the Italian grocer’s. In my past it was made with elbow macaroni. So delicious. So good. A re-past. Yes, I would love that.