Wit on Rye: Paul Violi’s “Counterman”

photo by Baldomero Fernandez (Katz’s: Autobiography of a Delicatessen)

So, where’s the beef?

It all depends on who’s roasting it and how you order. Here’s to the many flavors of language, elevating the seemingly mundane into art, and having the appetite for a tasty serving of wit on rye.

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“Waiting at the Deli Counter” by James Crandall

 

COUNTERMAN
by Paul Violi

What’ll it be?

Roast beef on rye, with tomato and mayo.

Whaddaya want on it?

A swipe of mayo.
Pepper but no salt.

You got it. Roast beef on rye.
You want lettuce on that?

No. Just tomato and mayo.

Tomato and mayo. You got it.
. . . Salt and pepper?

No salt, just a little pepper.

You got it. No salt.
You want tomato.

Yes. Tomato. No lettuce.

No lettuce. You got it.
. . . No salt, right?

Right. No salt.

You got it. Pickle?

No, no pickle. Just tomato and mayo.
And pepper.

Pepper.

Yes, a little pepper.

Right. A little pepper.
No pickle.

Right. No pickle.

You got it.
Next!

Roast beef on whole wheat, please,
With lettuce, mayonnaise and a center slice
Of beefsteak tomato.
The lettuce splayed, if you will,
In a Beaux Arts derivative of classical acanthus,
And the roast beef, thinly sliced, folded
In a multi-foil arrangement
That eschews Bragdonian pretensions
Or any idea of divine geometric projection
For that matter, but simply provides
A setting for the tomato
To form a medallion with a dab
Of mayonnaise as a fleuron.
And — as eclectic as this may sound —
If the mayonnaise can also be applied
Along the crust in a Vitruvian scroll
And as a festoon below the medallion,
That would be swell.

You mean like in the Cathedral St. Pierre in Geneva?

Yes, but the swag more like the one below the rosette
At the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

You got it.
Next!

~ from Overnight (Hanging Loose Press, 2007)

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two scrumptious food poems from barbara crooker’s new book Les Fauves

Ever have this daydream?

You decide to take a break after writing all morning. When you step outside, instead of your ho-hum suburban neighborhood, you find yourself in one of the most beautiful villages in southern France.

Breathe that bracing air! What a gorgeous, deep blue cloudless sky! Love the quaint cobblestone streets, ivy climbing up ancient brick walls, morning glories spilling out of flower boxes. And crusty baguettes in bicycle baskets!

Mmmmm — what’s that heavenly aroma? Following your nose, you spy a charming boulangerie just around the corner. Your prayers have been answered! Give us this day our daily bread — and we would not object in the least if you’d like to throw in a few French pastries. Mais, oui!

Thanks to the inimitable Barbara Crooker, we can visit the boulangerie of our dreams at this very moment. You have to love a country where food is an art form and bakers are revered, where the universal language of deliciousness brings people closer together. There is no finer way to feed the soul than to savor each bite with passion and gratitude.

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a new poem from penny harter

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” ~ from an Irish headstone

I was so pleased to hear from New Jersey poet Penny Harter recently, who sent along a new food poem she had just written.

You may remember when we featured Penny’s “Moon-Seeking Soup,” “Your Grandmother’s Whisk,” and “One Bowl,” all referencing her late husband, esteemed poet, translator, and haiku scholar William J. Higginson. With these poems, we saw a poet moving through various stages of grief, as words facilitated emotional release and healing.

As those of us who have lost loved ones well know, one really never stops grieving. We instead find a way to live with loss. Penny’s poignant poem reminds us that as time passes, we move on, but the heart, ever tender and hopeful, never forgets.

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MARMALADE

Sitting in our regular booth in the Prestige Diner,
often on our way home from some poetry event
or other, you always ordered eggs over-easy
and whole wheat toast, but we could never find
those little plastic packets of orange marmalade
in the small square dish by the napkin holder.

Now that you’re dead, do you still love marmalade?

Before we knew you were sick, we were driving
through a spring landscape, branches blossoming
white, sweet and easy miles disappearing beneath
our quiet tires, when suddenly you said,
I can’t imagine all this going on without me!

How fluently the names forsythia, red maple
flowed from our tongues that day, the engine
of our life together well-tuned and fuel efficient.
How can it be eight years since you drove alone
over the horizon? Yet I, too, have moved on,
weathered lonely nights, betrayals of my own body.

There is still marmalade, the sticky jar on my shelf
almost empty. I spread it thickly on this morning’s
whole wheat toast, and its bitter sugar lingers
on my aging tongue. Dearest, wherever you are,
know the heart makes room for other loves, although
I love you still, and I wish you marmalade on toast.

~ Copyright © 2017 Penny Harter. All rights reserved.

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Penny: I just wrote “Marmalade” over MLK weekend while at Peter Murphy’s annual Poetry and Prose Getaway. We were given a model poem as a prompt and it had the word ‘marmalade’ in it. Suddenly the diner memory surfaced, and I was off and running with it. Then I benefited from work-shopping it in a small critique group. Funny what one word can prompt if the grove is ripe!

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a three course meal with billy collins

“There’s something very authentic about humor, when you think about it. Anybody can pretend to be serious. But you can’t pretend to be funny.” ~ Billy Collins

Billy Collins (NYC, 2016)

Today we’re serving up a three-course poetic meal in celebration of Billy Collins’s 76th birthday on March 22.

Heidi Mordhorst, who’s hosting Poetry Friday today, is encouraging everyone to share their favorite Collins poems (or Collins-inspired originals).

Naturally I am partial to Billy’s food-related verse. Since he’s written so many good ones it’s impossible to pick a favorite. I love the wit and tenderness of “Litany” (you will always be the bread and the knife,/not to mention the crystal goblet and — somehow — the wine), and the wisdom and beauty of “Old Man Eating Alone in a Chinese Restaurant” (and I should mention the light/that falls through the big windows this time of day/italicizing everything it touches).

Come to think of it, Billy always seems to be eating in restaurants. Maybe that’s where he does his best thinking. My kind of poet. 🙂

Ossobuco e risotto alla milanese by mWP

He once said he would rather have his poetry be described as “hospitable” rather than “accessible” (which brings to mind “on-ramps for the poetically handicapped”).

Like it or not, he is undeniably both, a large part of why he remains America’s favorite poet. Doesn’t just seeing his name make you feel good?

Ever hospitable, he welcomes us into each poem with an easy conversational tone and generous spirit, engaging us with humor that lends a deeper poignancy to serious subjects. Continue reading

friday feast: renée gregorio’s “Solitude Dinner” (+ a recipe)

“I frequently dream of having tea with the Queen.” ~ Hugh Grant

photo by Jake Chessum

So yes, Hugh’s here.

Funny about that. We have the same recurring dream involving the Queen. Mine would be more along the lines of a daydream, though.

Hugh likes to visit when I’m having breakfast. He’s just as grumpy as I am in the morning, so we don’t talk while we’re eating. We are totally simpatico and I’m polite enough not to mention the big orange juice stain on his shirt. In fact, I give him the last brownie and he doesn’t even have to explain why he deserves it. It takes all my willpower not to call him “Floppy.”

I’m thinking “Notting Hill” is my favorite of all his movies. It could have something to do with Al Green singing “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” but more likely, every time I see that film I remember Saturday mornings at Portobello Road Antiques Market, or the best-I’ve-ever-had lemon sole fry-ups at Geales.

I’m happy to live inside the world of Renée Gregorio’s whimsical poem of gratitude. Here is a kindred spirit who also summons famous and familiar guests to her table. We never really dine alone, do we? At this marvelous place where memory, fantasy, and yearning intersect, it feels good to recognize what truly feeds us.

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