The Food Poet: Food & poetry have certain commonalities. How do you describe the poetry of food?
It’s not a difficult thing to think that at a poetry festival, you might hear a poem that piques your interest. It’s an entirely different thing to hear something– a way of offering words to a subject of already well-tilled ground in a fresh voice that makes you beeline to the bookfair area and snatch up the sole remaining copy of that poet’s book. And so it was that I met Ewa Chrusciel, first through her reading from A Contraband of Hoopoe, published by Omnidawn and then later through sitting with her words and letting them journey inside me. I’ve read this collection several times and each reading offers new nuggets of insight. At the heart of Hoopoe is a collection exploring the immigrant experience. This focus on immigrants coming to the U.S., feels particularly pressing and timely right now, one to be kept on the front burner.
I buy a sausage at the airport before I leave Poland. Kielbaska, kielbasa,
kabanos, kabanosik. This, my transcontinental dowry. The sacrificial
baby of my tongue. Foreign gods hover over us. If God lets my sausage
in, I will eat it like a saint wreathed in incense, circle a table with
Gregorian chants. Folkberg variations. The baggage carousel spurts my
luggage out. With an air of conspiracy, I transfer this sausage from my
carry-on into checked luggage. I look around. I pray for my sausage
while I move towards customs. The Angelus trickles. The Angelus
salivates. St. George is about to put his spear through a sizzling
dragon. My luggage goes through a “sausage scan.” Can an old sausage
be born young again? The officer pulls me aside. The officer holds my
sausage to the light. His babushka trophy. “It’s a sealed sausage.” I
declare with pride. I’ve brought a new species. “But you declared: no
meats,” the officer says. “Sealed Sausage is not a meat!” Sealed sausage
is a sealed sausage!” I say, as the guardian angels of my sealed sausage
swarm under the investigation light. The officer blinks when I repeat
with determination: “A sealed sausage is a sealed sausage.” He looks
blinded. My hypnotic alliteration throws him back into the waters of
his childhood where eels jiggle Scottish dances. Oh, sweet detained
sausage. Saint of arrests, pray for us. May my new species have mercy
on us. Escape at the borders. Oh, oven bird, whose migratory song is a
sausage a sausage a sausage. Dear sausage of martyrs. Sealed patriarch.
Let the Virgin Liberty swallow it.
Mark Strand passed away in November. Somehow I always expect there will be a flurry of magazine covers and articles to eulogize poets with the same kind of attention afforded to celebrities. And, perhaps that might be the case if the world resembled Brattleboro, Vermont where a stranger walked up to a poet friend of mine, delighted to have recognized him and asked for an autograph. While I didn’t know Strand personally, I owe him a great debt.