Postcards from Egypt

ISIS HOTEL

Thumbing the ancient elevator button

my driver summons the deity of ascension

who rumbles us up to the 14th floor lobby,

a world of massive brocade chairs and wobbly

wooden tables, populated by joking men

who take my measure in Arabic, take my

payment in Egyptian pounds, and offer me a room

filled with plastic flowers and the scent of ginger.


PHILAE TEMPLE

Scarred by time and new religion

the temple turns to show biz,

beguiling tourists with cash in hand

giving voices to the night’s deep shadows

as boats without running lights

glide by on a cloud  of diesel exhaust


MCDONALD’S IN LUXOR

For the price of a McSlurry, we find

simple pleasure in the familiarity of

clean rest rooms, free internet, and

the taste of something that kindles a

memory of chocolate, but the laughing

red and yellow clown makes me think

I’ve been had.


EGYPTIAN HORSES

Beasts of burden, small and precious,

did they descend from the fierce steeds

of Pharaoh’s chariot? Or simply the models

for the instant antiques, being sculpted

from ancient Egyptian dust

on every sidewalk in Cairo.


MEMPHIS, EGYPT

Careening through Memphis,

I feel like I’m in a movie mash-up:

part Bubba Hotep, part Toad’s Wild Ride.

As my driver hits the gas, and we fly by,

my camera finds a lone white donkey

who seems to give me a sidelong glance.


BUYING A CAMERA IN ASWAN

I never had to work so hard

to buy something

in a land where haggling is the rule

in a shop where the price was set,

the paradox obscured by the sight

of three black-burka’d Nubian women

wresting a washing machine

out the front door.


STALKING TOURISTS

Their photos show them in a jaunty stance

a pyramid in the base of their hand

finger pinching the nose of the Sphinx.

Mine show them posing, just a bit off kilter,

striking a pose made sensible

only by geography

 

TWO PHOTOS I DIDN’T TAKE

Two burkha’a women, one crossing a busy

Cairo street with a Hello Kitty balloon held

a lot; the other walking down the stairs of

Amenhotep’s temple, video camera held up

to her barely visible eyes.


WAYS TO GET SICK ON VACATION

Drinking the water, disguised as Tang;

Drinking the beer, long out of date;

Eating the food;

Breathing the air;

Forgetting your meds;

Riding in a car, a van, a train, a boat.

Standing quietly, doing nothing at all.


MUSLIM LINGERIE SHOP

Drawn in by a window of orange gowns,

we soon make friends with the Lebanese clerk

who shows us her glamour shot, her life unveiled,

then leads us downstairs where the good stuff is:

red lace body stockings, laced with a strategy

of slits and opening, peek-a-boo nighties,

unimaginable ways to unimagined skin.

 

MONUMENTAL GRAFFITI

Early Christians were among to first to discover how

easily ancient temples along the Nile could be converted

with chisel and knife. Images obliterated, names changed.

Napoleon’s legions overlaid their greetings in French

followed by any number of European names and dates.

Victorian Americans joined in as well, carving their home

ports into the feet of colossi. And I, knowing I trod where

ancestors had visited 100 years earlier, I was just relieved

not to see my family name visible among all the rest.

 

CLEOPATRA

“You look like Cleopatra,”

the street-hawkers called out again and again

to our Suzanne, lusting for

her eyes, her skin, and her hair.

Later, in the museum, we hear the myth

that Cleo herself was never a looker,

but we don’t believe it:

We’ve seen Cleopatra in the eyes of the hawkers.

We’ve seen our Suzanne.


DESERT RUN

Expatriates outside of Cairo, we gather in the desert

ready to walk or run the ridges, invoking odd rituals,

baptisms with beer, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats;

everyone sharing a massive multi-lingual joke.

 

TRAVEL BY CAMEL

The camels in Giza were high style,

tricked out. I’d ride one of those

any day of the week, feel like a

queen, the ride never too long or wild enough.

The camels at the Nubian Village

far south up the Nile, now those were beasts

of a different canter, ungainly, fly-ridden,

exhausted, and humble.

Riding with reins clenched, we ascended

the hillside too close to each other,

a managed slow stampede, held in check

by cheeky boys who walked up to the top

and then galloped back down with a yelp.

 

FELUCCA AT NIGHT

No wind, no breeze, just heat

and the slightest sound of water

lapping the edge of the boat’s weathered hull

floating out in the River Nile, our conversation

wrapped in a gentle scarf of city’s night music,

a group of travelers, far from home.

 

NIGHT TRAIN

By the time we boarded and found our tourist compartments

Alexandria was already a fading memory

a vague one for me,

already on my second full day of living in a body

focused entirely on pleasing a belly set on displeasure.

The rocking of the train lulled me to sleep,

a treasure of dreaming. In my medicated haze,

we might well have been on the Orient Express.


CAIRO ROOF TOPS

On a roof top in Cairo, my host

tortures garbage, coercing its essence

through sun-hardened tubing, until it escapes for

no more than a second before the strike of

a match sends it back to the sky as blue flame.

Gazing down at this magic, urban goats chew

without interest, working on a simpler

conversion, their own.


TRAFFIC

On the highways along the Nile, traffic

lights are only a suggestion, rarely followed,

horns signaling nothing more than intent

to take join the flow of endless traffic,

as if there were a choice.

 

MY EGYPTIAN DRIVER

At the Step Pyramid, my driver

again makes his only English joke:

“Good-bye. See you tomorrow.”

and then does not actually leave

but goes back to work on another

suduko, or maybe a nap in which

he dreams of a day riding

in another Town Car, drowsing

happily, stretched out in the back.

 

BAKEESH

Bakeesh! Bakeesh! Bakeesh!

The first word I learn in Arabic

is the last word I hear at the Cairo airport

as I struggle with luggage, struggle with language,

opening a door, finishing a meal,

I see the open hand, seeking a tip.

Bakeesh! Bakeesh! Bakeesh!

 

RED PYRAMID

I descent 65 meters into the empty

silent tomb: No crowds, no jostling, no words

until I hear a cheery Aussie accent,

see a welcoming smile, and find a

seeker who had found her soul

deep in Dashur, under tons of rock.

We chat, I leave. She wraps

solitude around her,

perhaps already knowing

a bus load of tourists

is about to arrive.

 

SAKKARA TOMBS

My ticket to the tombs includes a

one-man show, a guide with an audience

of only me, and the skill to leave his script

for another day. Instead we walk

like old friends, heads together,

examining the past, answering

and asking all the right

questions, one at a time.

 

BBC

Coldest winter in 30 years, I bundle up

on Emma’s couch and watch the BBC

on her telly, feeding my imagination with

well-told tales of Egypts past, parlayed

in a British accent, assured that what I

arrive at last, it will be a very classy place.

 

LUXOR ATM

In Luxor, as I wait at the ATM —

another ritual of a Nile-side tour,

a familiar and simple aspect of home —

an Amazon woman with a  spy-movie accent

wrenches me from my  drifting thoughts,

claiming my spot by prior psychic right.

The trace of madness in her eyes

reminds me that I most assuredly must

already have all the cash that I need.

 

EGYPTIAN MUSEUM

Perhaps it should be in a museum of museums.

Oh! this is what museums used to look like with

hand-written cards and thumb tacks

pushed into the stories of trickery and deceit.

And I never did find Nefertiti’s bust, perhaps

too covered with dust.

 

MY FELUCCA

“I want to drive the boat,” I joke,

having envied the light stand of the helmsman

balancing on the tiller, a ballet of navigation.

The captain hesitates, then smiles,

gives me the thumbs us, and I –

for a moment – become one of the few

who can say, “I sailed on the Nile.”

My heart still soars.


TOURIST

The problem with being a tourist in Egypt

is simple: You are a tourist in Egypt,  a mark

You might as well be wearing a flashing light.

In a souk, though, I meet two English gentlewomen,

who laugh at my sandals and scum-splattered feet,

and — telling the shopkeep that they live in Cairo —

they turn and offer to sell him to me.

 

DONKEYS

So many think of camels in Egypt

but for me the donkeys are the ones who remain

still trotting in my homebound dreams,

too small for their riders,

feet clipping in an impossible blur.

I  know their secret, yes, I think I do:

I  saw one in line at a Giza gas station.


EGYPTIAN RAIN

Four times a year it rains, they said.

Okay, well maybe twelve.

No matter.

When it rains in Cairo,

everything stops,

knee-deep in mystery,

blinded by the skies,

downright biblical. And still,

only a taste of what life was like

when the banks of the Nile

ruled the known world.


PRAYER

Our tour boat settled into its berth for the night

just as the call to prayer began along the Nile

one tower and then another

no two ever the same in word or tone or sound

but always just enough of an echo to make it clear

that the fabric of the prayer would never end.

 

VERY LARGE TAXI

Outside the Cairo Tower, the

tea-sipping driver is not easily put off

by seven lost tourists seeking a van.

“Very large taxi,” he assures us with pride

then sardines us into what can only have been

your mother’s Vista Cruiser, covered in

tapestry and beads, incense, and memories.

Pie Poems for the Poetry Pie

Oh trouble trouble trouble. What shall I bake for the Martha Stewart pie show? I had such grandiose ideas of different ways to create a poetry pie, but let’s face it, we’re flying 1,500 miles to get there, and it’s going to be tough enough to get my pie with its silver doilies through TSA, although I did check the website and they claim there really is no problem at all. I’ll just send it through the X-ray machine and be on my way, flying to NYC with a pie on my lap, my Mohawk friend Hannah next to me all the way.

Believe me, we are some excited.

I’ve decided: The pie, my dears, will be a decadent brownie pie with a ginger snap crust. Gooey and spicy. Pretty I hope. I make the practice pie tonight, I think.

But first the poems, it needs to be crammed with poetry, just like McCabe (in the Altman film McCabe and Mrs. Miller). And the poetry needs to be of the postcard variety, only about pies and baking, not trains this time.

As it is, I’m pretty far behind on my postcard poems, so maybe this will give me a chance to catch up.

Okay, six poems about pie:

 

Pat’s Apple Raisin Pie

Kayaking in Florida’s 10,000 islands,

expeditioning with Outward Bound,

I finally shed one more food phobia

and ate a meal that included raisins–

didn’t even try to pick them out.

But still, you know, even so, I don’t regret

passing up Pat’s Apple Pie with Rum-Soaked Raisins

in the filling. It just did not seem right

there on the table with our stoic New England fare.

 

Yogurt Dream Pie

Yogurt! I loved it! Made it myself in funny

little cups, plugged into a yellow warming tray that

I bought from some catalog. I put it in

everything, even Dream Whip pie with lemon

Jello-O and who knows what else. “I like it,”

said Dad, pointing with his fork. “What’s in it?”

“Yogurt,” I beamed, then watched in astonishment

as he pushed it way, slid back his chair, and

left the kitchen for the comfort and security

of his old, familiar recliner.

 

Steak and Mushroom Pie

We bought the first one in a tin in some tiny

gourmet shop in Portland, Maine, so cool we were

as college students, English majors, worldly

in our willingness to try something new, something

that I could replicate in our galley kitchen where I had

Already failed so stupendously to create coq au vin

and had come up with pink chicken. But, my dear,

let me tell you, that steak and mushroom pie, the

one that I made myself, still sizzles on my tongue, leaving

its savory essence in memory ever better, every year.

 

Mincemeat Pie

“Mincemeat pie,” I said to John, “was invented by Paul Bunyan

after Babe the Blue Ox finished off the last of the

real minces, a single-ox extermination unit, that one. So

Paul had to create a dish every bit as sweet and delicious.

I don’t know whether he poured brandy into the first

one, or if that was someone else’s idea, so in either case,

what you have here is actually mock mince.

Not mince.”

“Can’t say that I care,” he said, and sliced his way

through my crust of cookie cuttered stars, ate his way

into yet another Great American Myth.

 

 

Another Thanksgiving, Another Pie

Somehow, my son and I developed our

own tradition over the years, never quite getting

the pumpkin pie right, always managing to forget

one ingredient, never two, always finagling our

way through the shopping list, then opening the

oven door to find something unexpected in

shape or texture, but always finding something

for sure that we could pass off as pie.

 

Boston Cream in Boston

When Nanny turned 72, we all hauled down to

Boston for a night at The Pops, preceded by a

dinner at Jakie Wirth, me a satellite to Nanny’s family

who gossiped and sipped, drank beer,

drank wine. And for dessert the crisp waiters trouped

out with the most fabulous Boston Cream Pie

I have seen in my life, decadent as only custard

and chocolate can be. She cut us each an

ample slice, and surveyed her congenial tribe with

a nod and a knowing grin, a bit of custard on her lip.

String Theory Pie

Cooler weather, so

pie shop thoughts turn to squash

and spices

from all eleven dimensions

coexisting on the same

plane of faceted pyrex.

Will one fork ever be enough?

Will a fork be needed at all?

Spaghetti squash seems the

best choice for a filling that

never ends, especially if

you try to eat it

one yellow strand

at a time.

This entry was posted in Poetry.

It Takes a Train to Cry

My birthday is about to roll around again, and that means it’s been a full year since Little Peach and I made our memorable trip to the island south of Key West. This year, she will be my birthday chaperone once again, for the third year in a row actually, and I’m sure it will be just as memorable, although the memories will be of a different kind.

I can thank my ex-husband Pretty Boy Boyd, for my friendship with Little Peach, at least in part. If my life with Pretty Boy hadn’t been so, well, toxic, I might not have felt the need to flee my home on the edge of the ‘glades and drive five hours straight north to feel safe and nurtured.  Fortunately, thanks to all you all, I now feel safe and nurtured almost all the time. (Let’s face it. There are some poisons that even you cannot prevent.)

I’m looking forward to Peach’s visit. I always feel that she brings out the best of the poetry in me. I’m a little late in sharing this with you, but August was Postcard Poetry month, and I decided to dedicate my efforts to Peach and her family. I may have mentioned this before: They are all train buffs, and size doesn’t matter. From tiny model trains to the biggest engine we can find, they are all over it. So, when I came across a stash of railroad postcards, I knew my poetry for August would have a theme.

Now I want to share them with you, too.

AUGUST POSTCARD POEMS ABOUT TRAINS

Tucson Station

Waiting for Phoenix,
my sister grabbed her guitar,
tossed her hair, and outside
the station, melted into
a herd
of marching band students
their talents encased in
boxes all sizes, not a simple
shape among them.
She hauled her fading
marriage onboard, and
set out, her face reflecting
the same determination as that
of the boy, loading up
an obvious tuba.
Halloween

One Halloween in Miami Beach
we sat on a bench and watched
the costumed world ride by
on city buses and in cabs.
Another year, I rode the train
to Kansas City, my hair slicked
back, my clothes a boy’s,
wing-tipped shoes,
a wonderful joke.
I arrived at the station.
You were not there.
Surprise.

Meditation

Listen to a far away sound
the meditation begins
Listen to the silence behind
the sound
We sit on folding metal chairs
on the second floor of the AA club,
the energy of addiction muffles
the silence.
If we’re lucky, a train will roar by
rattle the building
shake our bones
and take us with it,
leaving only a departing light
in our eyes.

Worst-Case Scenario

You may not know this, but
if your car is stalled on
the track, do not run
away from approaching
disaster. No, get your
feet down on the ground
to the side of the rails
and run forward
forward forward,
as far from the point
of impact as you can possibly be.
Good advice in all sorts of situations,
I believe.

Therapy

My heart poured out, I paused,
tasting metallic emotion,
wanting some tea leaves to
spell out a better story,
wanting the story to
divine a better me.
“I see,” said my therapist,
“love for you is a train wreck.”
My breath flew south,
down the tracks of my life.
“Yes.”

Performance

For some event in junior high, my
high strung teacher had us all perform
a poem for voices, names of trains,
Erie, Lackawana, Susquehannah,
Ohio, and Santa Fe.
Twenty-five sweating pre-teens
and all we had to do was say a word
or phrase in the proper sequence and
oh my god it sounded like a train.
All we had to do was get it right.
If only Steve had not played hookie.
It might have been great.

Crossing

Pick-up truck speeding through
cornfields too late at night
for the driver to care
about anything much as he
tosses out another empty
though the fragrant window
almost to the track
he does not stop but
hits the gas
and we cross over with
seconds to spare.
Even now, I wake up some nights
and see the light of that train
full bright in my face.

Memory Loss

I can’t remember: It goes like
this: “Something something something,
Cry like a train.”
Howl like a river,
Cry like a train?
Laugh like a joker,
Cry like a train?
Scream like a banshee,
Cry like a train?
Tell me you love me,
Cry like a train?

Echo

Florida East Coast F – E – C
a few block to the west
rumbles as freight trains do.
Doppler effect
rocks me to sleep.
Open windows.
Poison jasmine
stabs the night.
Sleepless, I step outside.
Another train calls from the east –
an illusion
bouncing off the
flat canals of my mind

The Box Car Children

Sitting in my third-grade class,
desks still with inkwells then,
I read of runaway industrious
children living in a boxcar,
abandoned, like them,
motionless, steady.
“That’s where I want to be,”
I thought.
“Safe, secure:
I want to live there.”
But now I need motion.
Now I need flow.
I’d live on a boat.

For Robertson Davies

Somewhere in Alberta,
Via Rail paused in its
pursuit of glaciers and hair-pin
curves, gliding to a full stop
by a picture postcard railway station.
In minutes, my feet found
their way to the door
of a tiny bookshop,
full of Canada.

The Visit

First you need to know we
had never been friends, just sisters,
thrown together by biology. Not
much in common except family
history, something from which I’d fled.
But on that weekend, we found
something else, a ghost in a barroom,
a poem on a napkin, the sound of
of giggles in the alley, our heels on the
pavement at two a.m. Drunkenly
silly, she lay down on the tracks,
and I rescued her from absolutely
nothing as no train went by.
That’s all it took.

Copper

High chaparral, high desert,
a land not known to many,
the Phelps Dodge train laden
with ingots would chug down
from the smelter, beside that
patina green river,
echoing endlessly between
the canyon walls, as bits of copper
broke free and left a trail
of treasure
for children to find
along the track.

Chicago

It’s boring, she said, that
trip to Chicago. I had to
disagree, but maybe she
did not take the train on a day
when a deep, dark purple storm
covered the plains and cast
the landscape into a scene
from a 1950s science fiction
novel. We spent the whole trip
looking for spaceships
and little green men.

Tracks

Fingers of weeds between the rails
where once there was speed.
Metal stripes glinting
through summer asphalt
where once there were rails.
Grandfather’s stories of
bitter cold chores
before catching the train
to sit in a classroom
learning Latin and Greek.

Little Sister

A birthday trip from Maine to Boston,
my wish to go by train,
and so we are in Sunday best,
our matching outfits nicely
pointing out our differences in
ages, size, and shape.
I’m lost in daydreams while she
runs the aisles. Exuberant,
offends the crisp conductor with
these simple words,
“We’re coming back on the bus!”

Zhivago

Too much snow inside and out.
Too many people, yet never enough.
Box cars and desolation
keep the passion moving from
Moscow to Siberia
and back again,
Pasternak stoking the fire
with scarred hearts, fatal choices,
love, anger, and desire.

Sammie

We take the three kids to ride
on small trains, perfectly scaled to
work for us giants, perching
gingerly to sit on boxcars
each child embraced in a
seat belt of grown-up arms.
Sammy squirms as I hold
her, blond hair tickling my
chin, we ride together in hot
pursuit of grandparents
and other locomotives of memories.

Hairpin Curve

Somewhere near Banff, we climb
the stairs to the scenic vista
car to watch both fore and aft
as our Via Rail cars wrap
snug to the mountain
twist impossibly to
the edge of the
cliff and noisily vanish
into the blackness of
the tunnel ahead

Rock Island Line

Shut down by greed
more than anything,
the line lives on in
abandonment and cobwebbed
stations, crumbling in small
towns that once knew the
sound of commerce as a
piecing whistle and a
plume of steam.

Fog

Seattle to Mount Vernon,
an easy ride.
I snap photos from
the window and shoot
them out through the
airwaves, nothing
but gray, nothing but
gray. Everyone knows
instantly right
where I am. No
caption required.

Gladys

Arizona dust brightened
the sky and dimmed
our breath,
the silver train from L.A.
running late toward
the Superstition Mountains.
She smiled stepping down
to the platform, gray green
knapsack and khaki slacks.
“The babies cried in Spanish,”
she said. “Aye eee aye eee aye eee.”

Daylight Savings Time

Rushing south in my little tan
truck, you remember the one?
Whenever we went through
a water-filled dip in the road,
the stick-shift became a fountain?
Arrived, we thought, in time for the
Tucson train, with plenty of time
to spare, Arizona time,
but Lordsburg, New Mexico, had
sprung forward, clock hands
waving good-bye down the tracks.

Henry Flagler’s Railway Car

Having spent some time in a cow pasture,
they said, the private car
with its yacht-like interior
at last was recognized,
identified, and restored to its previous
state of robber-baron grandeur. I’ve toured
it twice, but what I still want to know
is how did it get to the pasture
in the first place? And I like to think of
the cows having tea from the silver
service on the mahogany buffet.

Paul Theroux

One of the tricks, he said, in writing
about travel is to be not too well known,
not too easily recognized, and yet
accessible, so people will talk
and share their stories
as they share the compartment
especially on incredibly
long journeys,
across Siberia,
from Boston to Tiera del Fuego,
along the rails of the Orient Express.
I want his job.

Anna Karenina

I love this story.
Do you think it’s true?
Apparently, they say, Tolstoi
once said he was as surprised as anyone
when Anna Karenina threw herself
under the wheels
of that train.

Midnight Special

Working through a stack of
dear Macy’s books,
I’m taken aback
to find the words on
bright cardboard pages
bringing music to my mind:
“Mary Mack, dressed in black,
silver buttons up and down her back.”
I close the book and start to sing.
“No, Grandma” she says.
“There is no midnight special here.”

Well, no, that does not add up to 31 Postcard Poems for August. I only had 27 railroad-themed cards, but I could certainly have written four more train stories. I was surprised by how many different train images, stories, and poems even now fill my mind. A lot of them are about you. Hope you’ll write soon.
P.S. The other four poems are about a boat.
This entry was posted in Poetry.

Why I Live at the Sand Trap

With apologies to Eudora Welty

You may call it a bunker.

I call it a beach.

An ironic oasis in a desert of green,

Its mission is clear,

its intent gives me pause:

a time for reflection,

a change of horizon.

My sand wedge in hand,

I fear not the descent.

I hit the sand,

propel the ball,

and I am out too soon

with hardly a chance

to fully imagine

a lifetime of sand

with striped umbrellas

and cool lemonade,

perhaps something stronger for you.

I wouldn’t mind

a whole game played

from bunker to bunker

from dune to dune

from beach to beach,

transistor radio crackling out

those songs of summers past.

I know there’s a river of cool

below the surface, and

I’m tempted to lurk

like the troll ‘neath that bridge

waiting to see who’ll pay for safe passage,

who’ll pay the toll:

beach blankets, umbrellas, toy trucks,

buckets, and scoops.

From sand box to sand trap,

it all feels like home.

Yes, I’ll move on for now,

but I’m sure I’ll be back.

This entry was posted in Poetry.

Ethan Coen’s Poem

The other night, driving home from The Village and listening to NPR, I heard a wonderful interview with Ethan Coen, closed out by William Macy reading one of the poems. You can read it, too, by clicking here.

“The drunken driver has the right of way,” is the title of the poem, and toward the end of it, Coen notes, “When facing an oncoming fool / The practiced and sagacious say / Watch out / one side / look sharp / gang way.”

That line stopped me short with its uncanny familiarity. After all, I’ve seen an oncoming fool or two in my time, and I’m sad to say it never dawned on me to step aside. For all of my study of the Worst Case Scenario Handbook, I still can’t say that I have the sense to roll off a speeding sled before it hits a tree, a wall, a door.

Faced with an oncoming fool, I’m still likely to stand there like your typical deer in the headlights. After all, what is more likely to shake up my life than pure foolishness? I know I have welcomed foolishness more often than not with open arms, leaving no one to blame but myself when the smoke finally clears and suddenly it is time to sift through the saw dust on the floor to identify the bullet casings.

In many ways, Coen’s poem reminds me of both of my ex-husbands, Patrick the Liar and Pretty Boy Boyd. They were and are still, I’m sure, masters at getting their way, often by creating a massive presence so wildly unstable that sharper souls than I can easily recognize its foolishness by the undulations alone, and stand clear.

Til now, at least, I’ve lacked the energy to remain vigilant, especially when I was never really sure whether that careening vehicle headed down my lane was evidence of an alert driver dodging raccoons — or a drunk driver navigating entirely by the sound of the gravel road against his tires.

I get tired just thinking about those days, yet think about them I do, preferably from the haven of the front porch of my turquoise conch cottage here on the edge of the ‘glades, just out of sight of the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range.  Sue Ten and my other friends here are great anti-fool detectors, and I know I am safe with them nearby.

Even now, I can hear “Walk Like an Egyptian” playing on the distant jukebox, so I know The Morning Guy has flung open the pie-shop windows, and soon he’ll be punching in the numbers to play some Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

Prentiss, my pie apprentice, has already served up her latest confection and  gotten rave reviews. Joe Sparkle Junior is fussing around the new putting green, replacing the divots that the Clown and her pals kicked up during the night. It’s an excellent day, just getting started with no drunken drivers in sight.

Untensed, I return to Coen’s poem, and my reverie, thinking how some time ago, I read an English-to-Chinese-to-English translation of a quotation attributed to Mother Theresa.  It was finally rendered as “The opposite of love is not hate. It is carelessness.”

I’ve thought about that for a long time, and have never been able to shake the odd truth of it.  Perhaps “apathy” was the word that the writer — or translator — sought, but “carelessness” makes more sense to me. The drunken driver is careless, from the moment he or she says, “Set ’em up, Joe.” I prefer a life that is careful, or at least full of caring.

Let us not be careless, my dear friends. And now, I must warn you, I feel a country song coming on, a song about being careless. I don’t know the tune, but here are the words:

You threw the white silk nightie of my love
into soapy hot water
with your red-flannel heart
and ruined them both.

You took my long-playing records
and left them to melt
on the radiator of your disregard.

You said you had no secrets
and left a trail of credit-card carbons
all the way to the motel door.

You left me waiting at the butcher shop
while you had bratwust at the bar.

You were careless with my car
and careless with my love
but there’s no no-fault insurance
for what you have done.

Obviously this song still needs a little work, so perhaps I’ll get back to that and polish it up before Sue Ten says it’s time for another meeting of the Tone Deaf Choir next door at the Swing Barn. I think she’ll like it when I am done, and maybe you will, too. Drop by soon. We’ve missed you.

Making Pie Crust

You must not work the dough too much.
Fine flaky crust
requires a light touch.
I cut the shortening into the flour,
rocking the cutter as I go.
There was a time, though,
when I would grasp two knives
and cleave the ingredients,
both pressing them together
and slicing them apart.
When young, I did not remove my rings.
I don’t even wear them now.
Back then,
I liked the look of gemstones
dappled with bits of dough.
Grandmother would not have approved, though,
and even now,
I know she is watching me.
Not that grandmother taught me how to bake.
Oh, no.
If anything, she showed me that I
could be a real woman
and never cook a god damn thing.
But that’s another story.
She did, however, make a pie crust
that was so flaky
I could peel it apart
with my silver dessert fork,
and find a new horizon
in every translucent layer.
My grandfather was talented with pie, too.
No matter how many people
sat at his table,
he could cut a pie
so that everyone there
had a slice of equal size,
and he always had two.
Somewhere along the line
I learned to lay down waxed paper
instead of a pastry cloth.
I think that is a Nebraska trait.
And when I make my pie crust now,
I travel back there for a moment or two.
I visit the women at my welcoming church
who invited me, the young mother, to join them
in cookie packing one holiday weekend.
One after another, the women came in,
brushing the snow from their sensible boots,
dropping down bags of store-bought cookies,
and saying, “I really don’t have time to bake.”
I knew I was in the right place.
Long ago, for a rolling pin, I chose a wine bottle
that drew me in with its rich green glass.
Now I wield the wooden pin
that I have carried with me for years.
I wonder when the handles broke off?
I wonder why?
It hints of violence in the kitchen, doesn’t it?
I don’t recall any—at least not involving pie,
although …
I did once throw
a fairly hefty farm-grown watermelon
at my fairly hefty farm-grown husband.
But that’s another story.
Now for the best part:
The crust is elegantly thin,
and ready to be transferred to its vessel.
Sometimes I choose the glass pie plates that I bought
when my favorite bar went out of business
and sold off all its cookware.
I don’t believe I ever ate a pie there,
though I would, sometimes, sit at the bar and drink
Glenlivet scotch, and toast the memory
of my late great father-in-law.
My war with him was never open,
but I still think I won.
I’m here now, am I not?
We can only speculate on his whereabouts.
So, where were we?
Ah, the pie crust,
submissive in its pan.
My mother would have me
prick it with a fork,
but I say no.
I go another route,
more seductive, more sublime.
I pull out my crimper
and begin the ritual
of pressing the dough,
embossing the crust
with rosettes and with stars.
It’s a gentle motion of marking territory:
This
pie
crust
belongs
to
me.
Many times,
if I am making a single-crust pie,
this effort remains hidden,
like wearing your best undies
when you go out to play.
But sometimes…
sometimes
I’ll do a two-crust pie,
and then I get the pay-off:
The aahs.
The oohs.
The how-did-you-do-its?
My crimper is a sacred object.
I rank it high in holiness.
Perhaps it is as holy as –
please don’t laugh –
my bean pot.
Both were gifts from Hazel,
wonderful, funny, austere, searching Hazel,
a city girl
who had learned to navigate country life
but never lost her style or poise.
I was barely in my twenties, and she was …
well she was just a little older than I am now.
I was in training to marry her long-haired poet son,
but I never did.
I’ve always felt
that he would have married me
for my incestuous pie crust alone.
It looked like his mother’s.
It tasted like his mother’s.
But in the end,
pastry was not enough.
I triumphed in pie crust, but I did not win in love.
I excelled in pastry, but I failed in common virtue.
And now I know,
pastry is never enough.
And yet, there are days …
there are days
when nothing will console me,
nothing will hold me,
nothing will soothe my fretful soul
quite like making a pie.
And as for the boy I did not marry,
Well, that really is another story.

Copyright 2000, Barbara Jean Walsh

This entry was posted in Poetry.