Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Apartment of Regret, 1988

There was one outlet. I had to unplug the fishtank to work the coffeepot.

The carpeting smelled like a layer cake of beer.

The apartment across from mine was gorgeous, with pocket doors, a stained glass window, and the memory of my best friend. She was the reason I moved into the building in the first place. She moved out the summer I signed my lease, having lived there a year, and was fed up with the landlord.

My place was furnished with a 1950s chrome dinette set. The bedroom had a bed with a white vinyl headboard that had brass pins pushed into it, giving it a pillowed effect. It was hard.

My other furniture was wicker and it creaked. I never sat in it.

The gas oven would occasionally send out a firebomb of flames from under the broiler as you lit it. My cat was almost singed. I considered complaining, but wasn't supposed to have a cat.

A collection of poetry, discarded in the doorway among some dried leaves, became part of my permanent book collection. From it I memorized, "Music When Sweet Voices Die," by Shelley, ripe with sentimentality, and "This Be The Verse," by Philip Larkin, which I can still recite if prompted.

My landlord: a tub of a man who clipped his toenails at the desk of his main floor real estate office, who didn't like me entertaining any man in the apartment, and who I discovered once, during a thunderstorm, out on the roof by my bedroom window.

The rent was too much.

The adjoining building, also owned by the same man, had a series of rooms like a prairie dog den that were rented by the week. There was a shared kitchen and bathroom. The hall that led to the shared kitchen had an old upright piano in it, with a few missing keys.

Letters from my sister, living in Pittsburgh at the time, arrived in a mailbox at the bottom of the stairwell. I looked forward to the little sketches in her letters, and her neat handwriting.

During the year I lived there, I shopped for groceries at the Acme within walking distance, and only bought items that were a dollar or less: ramen, margarine, frozen vegetables, mac and cheese, yoghurt. I was 19 and thought I'd live forever.

My neighbors had a snake for a pet. A big one. One morning on my way out to class, he said, "Hey, the snake got loose. Keep an eye out for it." I worried about my cat all day.

One of the single room renters was a young man named Mike, who had no family nearby, and he often didn't have food. Once a week or so he'd come over to my apartment and I'd make mac and cheese with hot dogs in it, or get fancy and make my sister's ramen noodle stir-fry. We'd sit on the floor of my living room and eat and talk.

One bare lightbulb lit the stairwell. 40 watt. Squint.

Mike was simple. No pretense. He wasn't without intelligence, definitely street smart, but wasn't much of a reader. He was tall, dark haired, soft eyed, and kind. He had no family to visit on Thanksgiving or Christmas, which meant he was alone in the prairie dog den on holidays.

On Sundays I watched The Gary Shandling Show on my little black  and white 12" television.

I forget what Mike and I talked about as we ate mac and cheese, but I felt good about myself for inviting him over, the poor guy with no family.

The phone was in the kitchen. I made weekly calls to my grandmothers. One week I was recording music from the college radio station on cassette, and forgot to shut it off so I recorded my half of the conversation with my grandmother, Romayne. The music ends, and then you hear me dialing, and saying hello, and all the kitchen clinks and clanks as I did the dishes, and my responses to her.

I remember feeling guilty for not inviting Mike home with me for Christmas or Thanksgiving. I thought it was safer that way. You know, he might fall in love with me. I was doing us a favor, saving us both a very awkward future situation. I gave him my mac and cheese and thought it was enough.

I hung my college level artwork. My colorful scarves. The poster of New York. My future.

I played it safe and breezy.

Grime on every surface I tried to clean off.

Odor of loneliness.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"It Sucks To Be Me" Chicken Pot Pie

It helps to start with a November mind. A few shaggy and grey thoughts, blustery with maybes and indecision, plus a dash of stress. Maybe because the Department of State won't recognize  the legal document that states your election to resume your maiden name, so your passport application is delayed. Maybe it's a big stress, or a small thing that digs in like one of those metal frame corners under your fingernails. Feeling it? You're ready to allow yourself the luxury of feeling sorry for yourself and to start cooking. Frustration and slightly cooler weather is key. If you don't have both, save this recipe for later.

Serves: Several saggy souls. Have some containers for leftovers.


1 chicken, fully cooked
8 carrots
1 med. onion
3 stalks celery
4 small red potatoes
4 c. chicken or vegetable broth

For the noodles:

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 medium eggs
dash of salt
splash of water (as needed)

For the optional roux:

3 tbsp flour
1/4 - 1/2 c. water
splash of milk


Bake a chicken.

What? I thought this was going to be an easy recipe! I don't have time to bake a chicken! I'm sad and frustrated and have had a long day.

Do you want this to taste good? Quit whinging and bake a chicken (it takes about an hour in a 350 degree oven), and while it's baking you can work on the rest of the chopping and mixing of noodle dough. Or you can phone it in and get one of those sad and wrinkly baked-for-your-covenience chickens that's been sitting in a plastic bag on a warmer for four hours and suffer the culinary consequences. Up to you.

While your chicken is in the oven, put on some music that makes you want to dance, and cut your carrots into rounds, dice up the celery and onion, and cube the potatoes. I like to arrange the rounds and little vegetable pieces into a pattern on the cutting board, just for fun. Playing with your food is ok, and no one needs to know, unless you photograph the design and post it to your Instagram feed. Hey, "Lovely Day" by Bill Withers is on! Groove.

Saute the vegetables in a little bit of oil at the bottom of a deep pot. I like to use a Dutch oven. When the onions are transparent, add the broth, put a lid on the pot, and let it simmer for awhile as you make the noodles.

The noodles are simple, and I learned this gift of a recipe from my friend Robin. Put the flour into a medium bowl, crack the two eggs into a small bowl and whisk with a fork. Add the eggs to the flour, and use the fork to mix. Add the dash of salt. When it starts to hang together, add a little water until a shaggy mass forms. Spread some flour onto a clean surface, and roll the dough out until it is about 1/8" thick. The noodles will puff up a bit in the broth as they cook. If you want them thicker, roll them out thicker. Cut into whatever shapes you like — squares are traditional. I have a circle cutter I use. Cookie cutters work — why not have hearts and giraffes?
When you're done cutting, lay the noodles out on a cookie sheet lined with some parchment or wax paper so they don't stick.

Chicken done? Let it cool a bit and peel the meat off the bones. Save the bones for making chicken broth. Put them in a bag and stick them in the freezer if you can't do it tomorrow.

Check the doneness of the veggies in the broth by actually tasting them. Don't just poke at them with a fork. Indulge in taste-testing. They should be done by now.

If they aren't done, or the chicken is still cooling, take a walk. It's November, so it's windy, and it will air you out. The trees are calligraphic against the sky, see?

When you're back from your walk, add the chicken pieces to the broth, and the noodles. Bring the broth up to a low bubble and let it gurgle for about 10 minutes. If you have larger noodles, stir occasionally to make sure they aren't sticking together. Add the roux to thicken the broth just a bit. You don't have to do this step if you don't want to, it's just an added bit of comfort that I like.

Serve in bowls. Light a candle for the table. Put your phone away, don't take photos of your food. Just eat, and enjoy. It's not quite so bad now, is it?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

American Echo

It is simple to make your opinion known if
you have a Facebook account or Twitter. There
but for the grace of god go we, smug are
our memes, the filtered photos that prove our gods
have or haven't failed us. Did you see that they
changed our precious logo? The nerve. Our favor
runs solely on Dunkin, or let champagne flow for us
only, since it cures dementia, did you hear? We all
want to remember forever what we shared to
each other's walls, how we became our own brand of death.
A variation of the French form, Bref Double a l'Echo, which I learned years ago and fell in love with for the challenge of writing to the end words without it sounding forced. I came to this poem by reading about grace this morning, then looking up the word grace in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (I wanted the idea of grace notes in here, but the quote of the martyr John Bradford ended up in here instead), and by having a stew of opinions in my head from my morning newsfeed. Boy am I tired of the internet, and everyone's opinion, including my own. It shows in this poem.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Being Here

The wind sweeps her breath
into my room,
a cloud of seedpods and earth.

Browned leaves chitter shiver
on their final branches,
arms reach foreverly.

A bird squees, a dog howls,
and sunblush spreads across
the bark of the black ash.

Interruption or preference,
the light and sounds
of dawn?

Meditate on the protective barn,
the unscreened window
that invites all inside,

and lift your eyes to listen,
scrub your mind to listen,
to hear, you're here.

This poem is as close to a triversen as I could get this morning. A Native American form of variable accentuals is the triversen stanza, which was developed by William Carlos Williams and a number of others. One stanza equals one sentence. Williams was after the breath pause -- breaking the line or sentence into phrasal lines. My version very lightly kisses this idea. He also spoke of the variable foot -- each line could vary in length, carrying from two to four stressed syllables.