Monday, April 6, 2015

April Poem #5


I have seen strong men grow weak and pale
at the sight of this delicious thistle.
How can anyone be afraid of a vegetable?
And yet they are, so it has become our task
to make them less threatening.

First the stems have to go, so the globes can’t be swung
like maces upside the heads of the slow or unwary.
But don’t throw the stems away. Just slice off 
the bottom bit and boil the rest along 
with the artichoke proper. (Put lemon juice 
or vinegar in the water so things don't turn dark and disgusting.)

Now for the pointy ends. This isn’t Game of Thrones.
Scissors work better than knives to cut the sharp
tips off each leaf. Throw them away or compost them.
And while you’re at it, throw away the bottom
two or three tiers of leaves, just above where the stem was.
They’re tough, with nothing on them you’ll enjoy.
Pick your battles. Concentrate on prizes worth winning.
Oh, and slice off the whole top inch or so,
sort of as if you were giving the globe a crew cut.
That sounds nicer than decapitation, doesn’t it?

Now into that big kettle of acidulated water.
(That’s Julia Child’s term. It will make you sound
very French chef and intimidating.)
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer
till tender. As countless medieval battles have shown,
when you pour oil down on your enemies 
from the battlements, a simmer’s as effective as a boil,
so don’t waste fuel. Start testing at twenty-five
minutes, by poking a skewer or a thin sharp knife
into the flat base. The leaves won’t tell you anything worth knowing,
so don’t waste time on them. 

When the base is nice and tender – don’t cook it too long –
take the artichoke out of the water and stand it
upside down on a rack or in a colander
to drain out the excess water. There will
be more than you expect. That’s typical in warfare,
no matter if it’s water or blood running.
You’ll notice how slicing off the top
to make it nice and flat also makes the draining easier.

You’ll have two basic choices at this point.
Do you want to eat the artichoke hot, with butter,
or cold, with mayonnaise or some other dressing?
If the first, melt some salted butter, pour it in little dishes
and set it on or beside your plate.
Starting with the larger leaves at the bottom,
pull off one at a time and dip the fleshy end,
where it was attached, into the butter.
Now, still holding it by the unbuttered end,
put it curved side up into your mouth,
and drag it out again, scraping the soft
buttered flesh of the inner leaf off with your lower teeth.
Don’t hurry. Sensual pleasures shouldn’t be rushed.
Discard what’s left of each leaf as you finish with it.
It’s thoughtful to provide a container for that,
or at least to make sure one's plate is big enough to contain the debris.
You may be surprised to find the pile of stripped leaves
looks bigger than the artichoke did when it was whole, 
rather like a field after battle.

Soon you’ll get down to the smaller, more tender
leaves near the middle. There’s far less waste with them.
And then you come to the choke, no longer leaves
but a pale, hairy tuft that you’ll want to pull off and toss away.
If you eat it, as the name implies, you'll choke.
Sometimes you can pull most of it off –
you’ve realized by now that eating an artichoke
is a very hands-on proposition, at least
the first part is, with little need for silverware –
though you’ll probably want to scrape off the smaller
bits of the choke with your spoon or knife.
When you’ve done that, you’ve reached your real goal,
you’ve stormed the gates, taken the citadel,
leaving piles of dead and wounded in your wake.

Don’t worry about them. Take a moment
to peruse the site of your victory. The heart
is like a little saucer, or a cushion, round and flat
with a slight indentation in the middle.
After all that hand-to-hand combat,
you’ll need to pick up your weapons again.
Use your knife and fork to cut the heart
into four pieces (or three or even two,
if you have a big mouth and don’t mind looking like
a wild beast), then dip each piece into the butter
before you put it in your mouth.
Do take your time. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

The process is the same if you eat it cold,
but with mayonnaise or something like it instead
of butter. I recommend letting the artichoke cool
to room temperature rather than chilling it in the refrigerator.
You don’t want to appear too cold-blooded,
and I think it robs the flavor as it cools the tongue.

It’s really very simple. Take your time,
be fearless and deliberate. You’ll come
away the victor, with all the choicest spoils, and unscathed.

                  - Victoria Stefani (draft)

So I'm a day behind, finishing yesterday's poem today, more or less, and will have to finish up today's tomorrow and then hopefully catch up.

     This is another mash-up, this time of Robert Lee Brewer's suggestion to write a vegetable poem and There Is No Pilot's prompt, which was to "Write an explanatory poem, in which you give instructions on how to do something. The something can be real or metaphorical." It is true that I have seen at least one grown man quail at the prospect of eating an artichoke, and I do believe there was more to it than the prospect of something he'd never done before, or had managed to avoid so far. I certainly didn't expect the poem to wind up so long; I thought it would be more of a quick skirmish than a prolonged siege. So please, tell me what you think: should I have tackled something earthier, like turnips, or more accessible, like carrots or iceberg lettuce?

No comments:

Post a Comment