Like Anaïs Nin before me, “My ideas usually come not at my desk writing, but in the midst of living.” It should come as no surprise to the reader, then, that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. For me, food has a quality of immediacy and intimacy that most writing can only aspire to; it’s difficult, after all, to taste rhyme, to smell rhythm, and to feel the drip of free verse on one’s tongue, eating poetry—no matter what Mark Strand does in his spare time at the library—is hard.
Food, as simple or as decadent as it may be, achieves something poetry longs for. A glass of malbec engages the senses as quickly and efficiently as a kiss, or the smell of strawberries being harvested under the Mexican sun. It is my hope that these poems, the first of which I wrote when I was 19, make readers embrace their inner epicurean and indulge in savoring these words that arose from food.
Malbec (for Mara Vulgamore)
A glass of wine, my dear, before you go?
A glass to warm your hands, to tease your nose,
To trip your tongue with the bouquet of those
blended floral notes—what do we know
Of wine labels but that they shine and show
What year we’re tasting and in what château
The grapes were grown that keep us from the snow?
A glass to long for—one to curl your toes
To taste exhausting beauty, to smell time,
To see the vines before the grapes grew there,
To touch on fruit and eros, taste the air:
A note of fig, of sandalwood, of rose,
And cherry oak, all with a hint of rhyme,
Before you go, my dear, a glass of wine?
Somewhere on the Road to Salamanca
This is the road where red-rocked mountains crack,
Where wind-chapped peasants in rough-woven coats
Coax from the ironed earth (as if by rote)
Big basketfuls of berries on their backs.
And place them into faded burlap sacks
Where they are left to ripen. As the motes
Of fibrous dust float in the air, a note
Of honey wanders on the windy track.
In merlot silk and faded denim we
Pick up a pint while on a weekly trip
To an outdoor market. And under a tree
Strawberries redden and they scent our lips;
They wet our palates—bursting juice, they sweeten
Our hungry tongues whenever they are eaten.
The Wine Press
Its rigid beams and levers are the beat
of iambs. Its wooden basket keeps
the bundling bunches like trochees, from spilling
out the sides. The must of tender grapes,
though not exactly part of the press itself
is still the reason for its being—Wine.
Each turn of the crank that juices the grapes
is a volta, producing a drop more of the pinot noir
that will end up in our basement when you
come back from the market. The wine press
no more on your mind than the color of the pages
of my cheap novel with the torn cover on the nightstand.
The sweet acidity, though, is on your tongue, the way the sound
of running water reaches my ears as I touch your lips.
Philosophers and poets long have known
That gourmands sing in much more sensuous tones
Than those who eat to live—we live to eat
And know we’re in the right, so why atone?
“Light snow makes Mondays better, but,” you said
“I’d rather drink my chai with you in bed.”
Warm well your hands in winter, mull some wine
And save your tea to flavor lips instead.
Wine’s not as warm as morning words can be,
And when you’re warm enough and reach for me
There’s comfort in your touch; it kneads the bread
That holds the jam that drips on our baked Brie.
To those who ask us why we worship fine
Food, fleeting love, good drink, the right to dine—
Tell them there’s comfort in a wedge of Brie,
A hot baguette, a kiss, Italian wine.