all poems and photographs
© by Maya Stein

all poems and photographs
© by Maya Stein
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Thursday, February 24, 2005

paralysis at the stove

though i am immensely fond of cooking
and don't mind so much the rigors
of the shopping trip, the hunt
for the right cut of meat,
or casting the proper vegetable
for the important supporting role,
though i pride myself on my good blend
of pragmatism, spontaneity, and
good nutrition, despite all this
I found myself, tonight, in a sea of confusion.
paralysis at the stove,
having already opened a packet of chicken,
having already sliced an onion and begun
the delicate dance of the stovetop saute,
having imagined a dish i can make on
autopilot, I discovered, too late,
I'd run out of ginger.

ginger, you see, being the one critical
ingredient the dish required, everything else
with a decent alibi, a passable stand-in. i could have used
tangerine juice instead of orange,
shallots for onions, chicken broth for soy sauce
there were possibilities in my pantry
because
everything but ginger had a running mate,
an understudy which could, in a pinch,
take the lead.

not ginger.
there's something irreplaceable about the root
like the singular microscopic skeleton of a snowflake
no substitute for this brand of miracle pungency
no way to...

wait. i know. you're thinking, poor
chef girl, i feel your pain, i see the enormity
of your sorrow, this disconsolate absence, but
what's the big fucking deal about ginger?

you don't know ginger.
don't know what it's like to bank on it like i do
to intuit its presence somewhere in the lower half
of the fridge, holding court in a corner
of the vegetable bin, the faith necessary
for this, an overarching certainty
for conjuring this knobby fortress of gold
for the way it will articulate this meal
like a verb articulates a sentence
the necessity of it
maybe you don't know exactly

but let's move on
let's say you understood
let's say you understood
so what i'll tell you is
i hadn't checked the fridge in time,
had cheerfully trotted out the onions and the chicken
and tossed into the saucepan, like afterthought,
a half-container of sliced mushrooms
like it was nothing, like the mushrooms were lucky
to be chosen this time, and everything began, as expected,
and like a tuning orchestra, to start making sense.
which is, of course, the time to peel the ginger and slip it
into the waiting broth. this
is the precision of infusion, the exact moment
a meal takes hold of itself,
aligns like symmetry
aligns as if the atoms of each separate whole
were to open like petals, breathing out
breathing in.
this is the time for ginger.

the fridge wasn't kind.
had deceived me
into being so sure the body lay
on its shelves that i had been careless
with the limbs. poor
chicken, unadorned by spice, lay wanting, the onions
flaccid now, a dull shade of
khaki, and the mushrooms - inconsolable,
flavorless as always.
without ginger the meal sank into mediocrity
a forgettable supper that couldn't quite be saved
by hasty sides of steamed rice and broccoli.

of course
i still ate.
you have to.
it's what we do.

2 comments:

Norene said...

I know a trick for consoling mushrooms that I'd be happy to show you. They get disappointed so easily (although in this case, the lack of ginger was certainly a justifiable cause for despondancy).

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