By David Lehman
November 15, 2016
This week’s challenge was to write a poem about a favorite or memorable dish or a drink.
Millicent Caliban takes first prize with “Revenge,” which Charise Hoge characterizes as “beautifully biting”:
To begin with, take a few perceived slights,
Add some social put downs or jokes at your expense.
Sprinkle in any recollected barbed comments
With gratuitous insults. Mix well.
Simmer slowly for a long time
In a sauce concocted of bile and bad blood.
Baste frequently and season with bitter herbs.
Layer this mixture over stinging nettles.
Now make a topping of seeming sweetness—
Honeyed words work well—and smooth it over
But only on the surface. Garnish generously with grapes of wrath.
Chill thoroughly and serve cold (while smiling).
The recipe form, with its sequence of imperatives, is perfect, as are the alliteration (“seeming sweetness,” “bile and bad blood,” the choice phrases (“bitter herbs”), and the brilliant parenthetical close.
The silver medal goes to Elizabeth Solsburg’s poem that treats the same “classic dish best served cold”:
We’ve swallowed raw lye that scalds our throats,
poison dissolving our souls
like the liquid flesh of squash split
and rotting in a field where it sits
too long—we scrabble for an icy antidote,
the classic dish best served cold
There’s a plate already chilling;
be quick, we are ravening.
To which Millicent Caliban replied, in a comment, “I like your oblique approach to our mutual dish as an ‘antidote.’ We both know how to serve it.”
Of the many other worthy poems that came in—including recipes and rhymes, a multi-part abecedarius and “erasures” of certain notable poems—I was charmed most Angela Ball’s “Kahiki Polynesian Supper Club, Columbus, 1971.” The poem is based on a memory in which “a hollowed pineapple, sweet-sour / chicken” plays an incidental part:
Kahiki Polynesian Supper Club, Columbus, 1971
Its sacred goddess drew us, waving
from her billboard, her spell
dictating we wait two hours
to dine in the company
of flaming torches and signed glossies:
Bob Hope, Bing Cosby, Dorothy Lamour.
My dish a hollowed pineapple, sweet-sour
chicken—the most sophistication
I’d ever tasted. Ripe for conquest by the glamour
known to Hope (an Ohio native!)
and the rest, primed to claim its totems
for my own, I reveled, oblivious
to the dark charade
of Asian waitresses wrapped
and knotted in strategic batik,
who were—according to the restaurant’s brochure–
the “wives of servicemen
from Japan or Korea,” all rigidly
to this kind of work.”
In an exchange with the indefatigable Paul Michelsen, Angela clarified that the place she describes can be seen online. “Really pretty amazing. It was probably the only Tiki Bar on the National Register of Historic Places—until a Walgreens, under protest, tore it down.” Among the drinks served there, Paul reported, were “Blue Hurricane,” “Instant Urge,” “Maiden’s Prayer,” and “The Smoking Eruption.”
While I had something else in mind for next week, I am going to postpone the idea and suggest instead that we write poems entitled “Blue Hurricane,” “Instant Urge,” “Maiden’s Prayer,” or “The Smoking Eruption.” The poem can but need not have anything to do with a cocktail.
Deadline: Sunday, November 20, 2016, midnight any time zone.
David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.
More Posts from Next Line, Please: