Monday, September 29, 2014

Late September Odds and Ends

New York's Washington Square Park by night
I've been wearing grooves in the Jersey Turnpike lately, running back and forth to book-related events.  And the misadventuring continues: this coming Friday (October 3) I'm Lawn Guyland bound.  I'll be reading a mix of poetry and prose at 7 p.m. at a coffee shop called Sip This.   The location is 64 Rockaway Avenue, Valley Stream, NY.  

After that I'll be heading in the general direction of home to sign books the very next day (Saturday, October 4) at the Cumberland Mall in Vineland, New Jersey.  I'll be at the Books-a-Million from 2-4, and I'd love to see you there, Jersey friends!

The glitzy interior of NYU's Bobst Library






Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An Amuse-Bouche

Photo by Melissa Goldthwaite/Food styling by Howard Dinin
This Thursday (September 25), I'll be joining a panel of fabulously talented writers at New York University (Fales Library and Special Collections, 70 Washington Square South, 6 p.m.).  We'll celebrate the relationship between literature and food, and the release of Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal.  If you happen to be in the big city, please drop by for some gustatory and literary delights.

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here is a selection from Books That Cook by poet/photographer Howard Dinin.  If you follow its instructions, you too may enjoy the perfect fried egg sandwich.


Making the Perfect Fried Egg Sandwich

dedicated to (n-1)

One egg.
The mammoth chicken gamete.
Primary color: yellow. Unary.
Pre-packaged,
Ingenious.
And
biodegradable.

Dust to dust. A sustainer.
Life itself
and contained in that
a death.
Not a paradox:
a meal, even for the dying.
Indeed, a preferred repast.

It may be the simplicity.
The sustenance
in so many dimensions.
A perfect food.
Life.

Here’s the recipe,
the one the dying prefer.
There’s that one egg,
and butter.
That’s it:
one egg,
one lump of butter,
walnut-sized,
sweet, mind.
Let the one dying add the salt.

The trick,
the cooking secret?
Frame of mind.

Think French.
The French for egg
requires three vowels,
the eggs of the alphabet.

The vowels open sounds,
throat and gullet unconstricted.
You can’t say “egg”
and swallow one at once.

You can in French.

One consonant,
and those French:
they don’t pronounce it,
but barely, a puff of air
between open lips, there
just to hold the word
together. The packaging.
An eggshell.

Think, consonant
with life.

Think French
for speed,
or rather pace.
The perfect fried egg
takes time.
We all,
not just the dying,
have so little.

You must take your time.
Haste is dissonant.

Consider this.
Perfect means
no flaws.
Ovum? Perfect, no?

Continuity
Open vowel sounds
Open throat
No constrictions.
No velar stops.
No looking at the clock.

Ovoid. Use a pan
with curving sides.
Curves, mind.
Not slopes,
no crevices.
Here’s a memory tip.
Curves are feminine;
it’s all one:
the egg the female cell.

You need a cup,
small,
ovoid. An espresso cup.
French, remember?

Crack the shell,
and separate it
intimate as you please
just above the cup.
Glides right in.
Just fits.
Let it sit.
And while you’re at it
let the butter sit.

The unary thing,
all one temperature
to start, once you start.
No hurry.

And for cooking,
keep it low to keep it slow,
the heat
a low flame, enough
to melt the butter.
Sufficiency.
No more, no less.
French.

Let the butter liquefy
till it’s albumen clear,
no color.
The only color is the yolk.

Swirl the pan
gently,
let the butter lap
the sides.
Then once it pools,
hold the cup
above the surface,
intimate as you please,
and tip the cup,
slowly please,
and slide the egg out.

So far, all lubricity.

Slow.
Open.
Lubricious.

Just as the albumen sets,
gently, please,
swirl the pan
so the egg slides free.
The flame stays low,
no browning,
the white stays white
to the end.

Now gently as you please,
and intimate,
you should have the hang of it
by now,
spoon
the fat to top the yolk.

Repeat.
Repeat.
Repeat.

Slowly.

Watch the pan, and drop
one slice,
two?
of bread
into the toaster.
What does the dying diner
want?
Open-face?
Or classic, something to take
in the hands?

I’ll remind you again.
No browning.
While the bread toasts,
spoon more fat
to top the yolk.

Repeat.
Repeat.

No browning.
Don’t hurry now,
so close to being done.
No short-orders
for the dying.

And when the toast pops,
plate one slice for sure.

Kill the flame
and swirl the pan.
Make sure the egg is free
to glide around.

Now here’s the tricky part.
Simple, but you’ll need
dexterity,
and a very thin
bladed spatula,
which you slide beneath the egg;
plate with toast
as near the pan as you
can get.
Slide the egg onto the toast,
and leave the fat behind.

Top it with the other slice,
if that’s what’s called for.

OK

Now!

Quick!

French, think French.
The order’s done.

Get it to the bedroom
where the dying diner
waits.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"To Own an Eland!": Antiques and Poetry in Columbia, Pennsylvania

 
At Burning Bridge Antiques in Columbia, Pennsylvania, Andre and I ran smack dab into this larger-than life fellow:

 

 
When I read his tag and realized he was an eland--the world's largest and slowest antelope--my heart skipped a beat.  I've long been fascinated by Randall Jarrell's "Seele Im Raum,"--German for "soul in space"--a moving and mysterious poem in which an eland stands for how what we imagine can feel far truer than any literal truth.  

For those who haven't had the pleasure, here it is:

Seele im Raum 


It sat between my husband and my children.
A place was set for it—a plate of greens.
It had been there: I had seen it
But not somehow—but this was like a dream—
Not seen it so that I knew I saw it.
It was as if I could not know I saw it
Because I had never once in all my life
Not seen it. It was an eland.
An eland! That is why the children
Would ask my husband, for a joke, at Christmas:
“Father, is it Donner?” He would say, “No, Blitzen.”
It had been there always. Now we put silver
At its place at meals, fed it the same food
We ourselves ate, and said nothing. Many times
When it breathed heavily (when it had tried
A long useless time to speak) and reached to me
So that I touched it—of a different size
And order of being, like the live hard side
Of a horse’s neck when you pat the horse—
And looked with its great melting tearless eyes
Fringed with a few coarse wire-like lashes
Into my eyes, and whispered to me
So that my eyes turned backward in their sockets
And they said nothing—
                                  many times
I have known, when they said nothing,
That it did not exist. If they had heard
They could not have been silent. And yet they heard;
Heard many times what I have spoken
When it could no longer speak, but only breathe—
When I could no longer speak, but only breathe.

And, after some years, the others came
And took it from me—it was ill, they told me—
And cured it, they wrote me: my whole city
Sent me cards lilac-branches, mourning
As I had mourned—
                           and I was standing
By a grave in flowers, by dyed rolls of turf,
And a canvas marquee the last brown of earth.

It is over.
It is over so long that I begin to think
That it did not exist, that I have never—
And my son says, one morning, from the paper:
“An eland. Look, an eland!”
                                           —It was so.

Today, in a German dictionary, I saw elend
And the heart in my breast turned over, it was—

It was a word one translates wretched.

It is as if someone remembered saying:
“This is an antimacassar that I grew from seed,”
And this were true.
                            And, truly,
One could not wish for anything more strange—
For anything more. And yet it wasn’t interesting...
—It was worse than impossible, it was a joke.

And yet when it was, I was
Even to think that I once thought
That I could see it to feel the sweat
Like needles at my hair-roots, I am blind

—It was not even a joke, not even a joke.
Yet how can I believe it? Or believe that I
Owned it, a husband, children? Is my voice the voice
Of that skin of being—of what owns, is owned
In honor or dishonor, that is borne and bears—
Or of that raw thing, the being inside it
That has neither a wife, a husband, nor a child
But goes at last as naked from this world
As it was born into it—

And the eland comes and grazes on its grave.

                                                      This is senseless?
Shall I make sense or shall I tell the truth?
Choose either—I cannot do both.

I tell myself that. And yet it is not so,
And what I say afterwards will not be so:
To be at all is to be wrong.
                                                 Being is being old
And saying, almost comfortably, across a table
From—
              from what I don’t know—
                                                             in a voice
Rich with a kind of longing satisfaction:
“To own an eland! That’s what I call life!”

"This is an antimacassar that I grew from seed."

 

Lost In the Stacks: A Tour of Mullen Books, Inc.


After yesterday's book signing in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Andre and I set off a little adventure with our son Eli and his girlfriend Samantha.  Our first stop was Mullen Books, Inc., in Columbia, Pennsylvania, a homey river town not far from Lancaster.


Old freight elevator
Mullen Books is owned by Kevin Mullen, the brother of an old college friend of ours, the brilliant representational painter James Mullen:

Thomas Bay MDI, 2009, oil on canvas

Though our visit was an impromptu one, Kevin welcomed us warmly and gave us a tour of his storefront and all that lies behind it.  Like Jim, Kevin is drawn to beautiful things.  His warehouse is full of surprises, like this antique safe:



And this wax cylinder phonograph, which he demonstrated for us:



But the main attraction at Mullen Books, Inc., is, of course, the books.  Kevin's stock is varied, but at its heart is the most enormous, enticing collection of art books imaginable.

Just one room of many
 Naturally, I couldn't help wandering off into the stacks to do a little browsing.



And just as naturally, we couldn't resist buying a book apiece: an enormous coffee table volume of Edward Hopper's paintings for Andre, a book of Egyptian art and mythology for Eli, a how-to manual on collecting fossilized shark teeth for Samantha.  And for me?  This gem: