Monday, September 19, 2016

The Garden of Verse: On the Menu Today... Food

            Food is almost too easy a subject. Everybody has something to say about food. Some people never stop talking about it. Sometimes we realize we've become those people ourselves. 'And the food? You can't believe the food.' It's our definition of a good time.
            What do we do to have fun? Let's have a party. What's the secret of a good party? Experts say it's the food.
            What will we do when the guests come to visit? Let's go out to eat! Anybody know a good restaurant?
            So the optional theme of the September issue of Verse-Virtual, the online poetry journal to which I contribute each month, is food. Alas, I have already written about this rich and universal theme in a poem called "Invitation to the Feast," published on Verse-Virtual a year ago. On closer inspection, the poem which begins this way...

I'd like to start with some Inspiration Soup. A small bowl if it's strong enough.
I'm leaning to Puccini, and if you have something off of "La Fanciulla del West," I'd be in emotional-culinary heaven. (Add a dash of emoticon if you're of a mind to.)

... is not really about 'food' -- the various sources of nutrition -- but about the rituals.
            So once again when the 'food theme' crossed my mind, it was not what we eat, but the act of eating, the role of eating, that stirred my appetite for words. More central than what we eat, the act of eating is the central activity, and ritual, of a successful, long-lasting life. It keeps us going in more ways than we easily enumerate. Do not mistake me, we are fascinated by what we eat. Probably always have been. But it's the "let's eat" button pushed continually by our brain that triggers the whole human behavioral repertoire.
            Our eyes open: a new day. Even if nothing else summons us -- no job to do; no responsibilities -- we might lie around in bed for what, an hour or two?, before the idea of breakfast gets us out of bed.
            Eating eats at us.
            But what happens if you have no appetite? This condition has appeared only a few times in my fortunate span of years. The only times that endure in memory are directly following surgery, probably the only extended periods when I have had to force my body to learn how to eat. When the whole idea of consumption was not only unappetizing, but positively repugnant.
            A life turned upside down. Eating is not only the activity that keep us going physically, it's the activity that tell us who we are. Who am I without it? Anywhere here's the poem that confronts that fraught circumstance:

Appetite Post-Surgical
My food is eating me
When I lie down my stomach sits up,
this sick center of mortal existence
Which of us will digest the other?

Indigestible me:
a pain additive
choked down with every feeding
grows at length into a bigger pain
until it alienates my affections
from the act of consumption,
then goes on to sitting, standing, reclining,
working up to breathing,
even as we cease to speak

Food and I are at an impasse,
a no-go zone
I lounge in my bed sheets,
recalling a lustier fellow at table,
eating everything in sight
'These skinny guys,' a portlier colleague once remarked,
with some ire,
'who can eat so much pizza'

Pizza free, he's hiding in there somewhere,
that long-ago lithe fellow reliably good for dessert,
desperately seeking to eat his way out

             Another poem in the September Verse-Virtual also plays fast and loose with the way we think about eating. It's called "Food for Thought." The opposite of my "no appetite" poem, this one is about the drive we sometimes feel to 'consume' experience.
            How was the show? 'We ate it up! We loved it!' We danced in the aisles (literally, or figuratively).
            But not only do we want to eat up the world, sometimes there are things -- forces -- that want to eat us. In this state of hominid development, we're not particularly worried about lions and tigers, as we once were when we were little tree-habituated creatures trying to last out a winter in a cave.
            Runaway appetites is the theme for this loosely-strung effort titled "Food for Thought." As the title suggests, the metaphorical expansion of the notions of food and eating is, as the expression goes, as big as life. Here's an exerpt:

...A monster is loose, seeking to eat us all,
as we scurry down the alley-way of tomorrow,
today already consumed (used up; no good any more)
The glass and steel towers zoop us up,
giant anteaters with air-conditioned intestines,
butts litter the sidewalk
We will eat this day through a mound of doughnuts
taller than the Imperial Nation Building,
consuming the century that is no longer ours...

            You can read the rest, and all the other poems this month, at