Haibun: Things I learned in the CIA

Posted for Mish’s prompt at dVerse Poets Pub – finding beauty in the ugly.

Haibun: Things I learned in the CIA
“Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.” Anthony Bourdain
Many years ago, I attended and graduated from the CIA – The Culinary Institute of America that is. I was paired up with a tall lanky homely young man with curly hair and large deft hands. Unlike the rest of us, he always had a piece of rotting fruit or vegetable on his work station. Out of reach of the knives and other items, but always there. I remember once one of the instructors yelling at him to get rid of that damned piece of rotten fruit. He would but the next day, another one took its place. I think the others felt sorry for me because I was paired with him but I liked him a lot. He was dryly funny and open to everything. We became lovers after a fashion and finally I asked him the question: Why the rotting fruit? He smiled and said, “in its own way, it is so beautiful. And we all come to this you know.” I would sometimes see him lift a pear, an orange, a bell pepper and look at it from all angles before carefully replacing it on the table. After graduation and working under some excellent chefs, he went his way and I mine. I never forgot him. And no, it was not Tony Bourdain.
rotting fruit
in its season –
so must we all

Food – a haibun

A haibun for the Tuesday Platform at Real Toads.

Food – A Haibun
I don’t often write about when I was a chef. But my love affair with food is still running wild and unfettered. The fields of produce, the trees with fruit, the bakeries and butchers – all of them still lead me ever onward. We all have a comfort food, the food that says home or safe place or happiness. I know I do and the list grows longer every year. The feel in my hand of a warm freshly picked tomato or an egg still warm from the body of the hen sends a frisson of comfort down to my toes. The smell of my father’s fried chicken still lingers years after he died, the taste of a sharp acidic North Carolina tomato makes me almost orgasm when I taste it for the first time in summer, the taste of butter on bread or slurping a long noodle out of broth, stuffing a burrito into my mouth, or eating a big bun full of barbecue makes me happy in a way I cannot describe.

Food is what brings us together. It also separates us but food at its basic level brings us together. What we fix for someone tells us a lot about us to the person eating our food. We always give our best when we fix food for someone else; the food may be biscuits and gravy or Beluga caviar on toast points or fried rice or carne asada – it doesn’t matter. On some level I think we want to show off but on another, I think we want to say to the other person: “This is me. Please accept me.” I never refuse anything I am offered or say, I don’t eat that. I believe when we do that we are rejecting the person or culture offering the bite. I wish we could all sit around a huge table and share the food of our wealth, our poverty, our happiness, our grief. Pass the plates one to another, look each other in the eyes.  If we can’t do that then I feel we are all of us are well and truly lost.

seasons changing –
water to wine to juice –
we all are one

public domain

Summer Tomato – Love Poem

Summer Tomato:
I’m not talking about those
Mushy wannabe red globulous things
In plastic trays in the pro-duce section of the store –
I’m talkin’ ’bout tomatoes born
And raised in the heat of the summer sun,
Sassy summer tomatoes full of juice,
So tangy and sassy that before
You can stick your fork into a slice
Lying innocently upon a plate,
One of those bad boy slices
Jumps up and slaps you across the face –
No, not talkin’ ‘bout those demure sweet things,
Those tame ‘maters with bland flavor –
I am talkin’ bout those full fledged
In your face, deep red, full of bite,
impertinent summer tomatoes
And we all know the best ones comes
From the gardens of your mama,
Your grandmama, a neighbor, your own backyard
Or from a basket in the back of some sorry looking
Pickup truck parked on the side of the road –
“Fresh Vegs – Cheap!”
The bed filled with sweet sticky pearl kerneled corn
and all sizes of ‘maters: Rutgers, Better Boy, Homestead –
none of those trendy purplebrownromagrape ‘maters,
unpretentious no apologies ‘maters,
or still moist from dew butterbeans,
Begging you to open them and strip out the beans
Into a bowl – plopplopplop
And those toe-may-toes…
Warm from the sun – skin smooth and tight
Sayin’ to you –
Stroke me, hold me, bite me –
Slice me on the plate with those cooked butterbeans
And corn and let me join my juices with theirs –
Spoon me up, sop me up with warm golden cornbread…
And swallow down with sweet iced tea –
Summer tomatoes – The feisty street punk of tomatoes –
No sweet mushy debutante,
No dry flavorless academic,
No all on the outside nothing on the inside
Vegetable hypocrite…
The Real Summer Tomato:
‘tween my fingers and my thumb,
Watch out belly – here.it.comes.

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