"The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Greatnesse a period hath, but hath no station.

"At every stroake his brazen finnes do take,
More circles in the broken seas they make
then cannoons voices, when the aire they teare:
His ribs are pillars, and his high arch'd roofe
of barke that blunts best steele, is thunder-proofe:
Swimme in him swallow'd Dolphins, without feare,
and feele no sides, as if his vast wombe were
Some Inland sea, and ever as hee went
Hee spouted rivers up, as if he ment
To joyne our seas, with seas above the firmament."

--John Donne

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Swedes eat them with dill

We arrived in Knight's Landing ravenous. The taco truck parked in empty lot of a defunct auto shop lured us in with a siren scent of carnitas, carne asada, and baracoa tacos and we circled our prey like wolves. A couple plates of cornmeal, beef, pork, salsa, and some lime soda later, we looked around with human intelligence once more. Across the bending highway stood a dilapidated building that resembled an enormous shed. We could see a sign for live crayfish on one door. The gate to the high fence that surrounded that section of the building was padlocked, but a few windows were exposed along other walls. Through the dark, warped grime of ancient glass we could detect a pool table, a room with tables bristling with the legs of overturned chairs, and a long bar. A fallen sign read: BIKERS WELCOME. This bait shop turned highway and river bar had obviously been closed for some time, and I wondered what this modest crypt of good times meant to its merchandise. The crawfish. The crawdad. The crayfish. I wrote:

The crayfish rejoice. The gaoler, the wolf of the rivers, the tyrant has fallen! They raise their claws above the water and clap them together—commemorating each anniversary of the bankruptcy, death, or act of crayfish god that padlocked the doors of this fisherman’s hole. But not all. Members of a small society of crayfish paint themselves darker with the river mud, believing that if the ogre has no use for them, he is likely to—unthinkingly, clumsily, with poison—annihilate them in passing. They are organized. They have a newsletter and hold fund-raisers. Meanwhile, the building contemplates theology. Cremation, burial, annihilation, reincarnation? Spiders lawyer its demise. The windows swell and muddy with age. The bait shop slowly acquiesces to its architecture a mile away from the river that runs through Knight’s Landing, California.

A crawdad is a cipher for human sympathies. The heavy enormity of his claws prefigure the beseeching hands of Rodin's burghers, while he himself is as small as a doll. Crawdads are the peasantry of river, creek, and delta, always bowing, permanent supplicants. His eyes are bright with the desperate cunning of the scavenger, cowering furtive in mud or crevice from his scaled predators, but striking with murderous precision from these selfsame alleys when weaker fish idle by. He wallows gluttonously in orange edible beds of salmon roe. Crawdads cram themselves by the hundreds into the fisherman's traps, drawn by individual avarice into collective indenture. Served in a plated heap or steel bucket, how like a red vision of man debased. The instinctive loathing for the humunculous fires the zeal of our semi-cannibalism. We tear the crawdad in half, prize the tender meat from their tails and devour it, then we suck out the guts and shatter the claws. The melted butter speaks of luxury, of pillows and silk, the hot sauce to the fires of lust pain and fear that drive us on to the next crawdad, and the next, until finally there is naught but shards of exoskeleton--the masks of comedy and tragedy mingled now inexorably, the mirror broken.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hedgehog Recipes

How I make Hedgehogs

Or, feed a hedgehog on medicinal herbs, nuts, and berries. They will take parts of the medicine into their flesh. After the hedgehog is grown, cure it in a bottle of whiskey, and cut off small portions when feeling unwell.

Or, do as the Romans did, encase the hedgehog in plaster and bake at a high heat. After it is done, smash the plaster. The force will shatter the bones and spines of the hedgehog and leave only the meat, which you then pick out.


I met a hedgehog in Kilkenny. Olga was napping in a hostel and I took a walk along the stone walls and around the river of the haunts of my ancestors. We're rolling hill people. It was just before dusk and I was perhaps a half mile out of town. I heard a rustling, spotted the spiny devil nosing out grubs in a pile of leaves, and slowly, oh so slowly, walked closer to it until I could almost touch it. I looked at the hedgehog until it was too dark to see.

Oh, I do try to be good

W: Hello Mathias.
M: Hey there, William. Big Guinness?
W: No, I'm on a beer diet.
M: Oh... OK, two big Guinness?
W:... No, I'm on a diet from beer, not of beer.
M: Oh.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I'm the world's leading authority on canned beans

This is my favorite food blog-of the three I read. I don't think I've ever done the 'look at this blog' thing on my own, but now I feel like it.

Something in Season

It's a sweet Valentine's rumination about his differences in the kitchen with his wife. It references a NY Times article about Alpha cooks and Beta wives. The blog's take on it charming, but the article itself, though often funny, assumes that Alpha cooks are always male, though in fact I find the whole division of the world into Alphas and Betas if anything more annoying than assumptions about men and women. What do little fish have to do with anything anyway?

What Something in Season doesn't recognize in his zeal to be a better husband, is that his differences with his wife are one of taste- i.e. butter or not. But the article was focused more on technique, i.e. you don't know how to cut an onion- get out.

I've banished Olga from the kitchen *when I am cooking* for a couple of reasons. The first being her tendency to tell me not to do things, like add wine, or sage, or citris, or cheese, or any number of things to something I am making. When I am making something I carry with me some taste-vision of what it will be when I am done, and I poke at it until it gets there. Sure, it is edible or even tasty before then, but that dish is not the one I am making. Plus, as I am a total amatuer in the kitchen, to be told that I am about to ruin a dish hits home. After all, she might be right. It's dispiriting. I want to make something beautiful and the least thing can ruin my ability to believe myself capaple of it. We talked about this and she is better about doing that and I am better about letting it get to me. The other reason is simple. Sometimes my ambition is so outsized that it takes every teaspoon of my attention to keep my eye on all four burners, two cutting boards, the grill, and the oven, with a sprinkling left over for what is marinating or chilling in the fridge. At these times, I can barely stand myself in the kitchen with me and am likely to spin around and sprint out to the grill with my beet-stained knife still in my hands. And empty kitchen, then, is a kitchen without loved ones finding themselves turned into a knife rack.

Olga is actually a great cook, and I love it when she decides to make something. This is rare mostly because she works and I am home. If she's in lab until 8:30, and I've been home all day, I really ought to have something for her to eat. She makes things I do not, mainly because my cooking is pretentious and she cooks things her family makes. Her method is better because it is repeatable and usually I've forgotten whatever feast I made within a week (if not a day). Though I am working on repeatability. This is last year's menu.

Oysters on the halfshell with chiles and sea salt

A salad of pea sprouts, radiccio, and baby greens with radishes, pears and
bulgarian feta

A broth (from beet and radish greens, pear cores and skins, half an orange, and
tuna fat) served with whole garlic cloves and a quail egg.

Roasted baby red and golden beets with roasted pears, walnuts, and red pepper

Bluefin Tuna tartar with fresh squeezed citrus, slivered radishes, salt, and
pepper, garnished with the raw yoke of a quail egg.

Hedgehog and wild Chantrelle mushrooms sauteed in rosemary, olive oil, and


Vanilla ice cream with raspberries and a drizzle of ten year old muscato.


This year's menu will follow, once I know what it will be. I think I might need a clay pot.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Parsimony & Parallax

The pub was full last night, despite the rain, or maybe somewhat because the rain was pleasant and civilized. I stood out in it staring up at the street-light nothing of the sky and let the coolness into my nerves three times, and each one like a small eternity. It was a needed rain, which is rare along the bay, and time stretched as it did owing to an intense and universal gratitude.

The tables were full of people playing chess and scrabble, old friends uniting, and in back a man was doling out free wine. I had to work to keep up, and that feeling too, was a prodigal's return.

And as I poured and washed and walked around looking for glasses, my mind found a new window into itself, and I started listing, simply listing, all the things that I have done, where I have been, and item by item produced an aggregate vision of a being that was strange to me.

I have been to Prague. My fastest mile was 4:33. I've been homeless. I lived for a while off one meal a day, that meal provided by a professor. I've written and lost two awful novels. I broke my own horse, Whiskey, at age 14. I rode trains when I was a boy. Those tracks are torn out now. I dropped out of highschool. I have an ulcer. I was an editor at a publishing company for a while. I really was. I've been in jail. Can you believe the wife I have? How'd that happen? During college I went to New York almost twice every year. I'm friends with actors and professors and activists and artists and writers and other makers of things. I spent a year traveling with a photographer through California's central valley talking to farmers and hunters and fishers and beekeepers and jam makers. We're turning that into a book. I sang in our Methodist church choir. I can cook a little. For two months I played chess every night at 4am with a homeless man who came into the gas station where I worked. We had to take cold showers for months at a time when I was little because we couldn't afford propane. I saw my first orange tree only four years ago in Santa Clara. My wife and I sang 'On the Street where You Live' with an old Irish guy, and his wife, who shared a birthday, and their friends, who were Murphys, in Dick Mack's in Dingle on our honeymoon. I planted a vineyard. I'm building a winery. I have a little sister in Boston. My wife is going to be a science writer. I read a lot of books. I'm going out to breakfast at Cafe Ina with my wife. We know the owners a little.

Isn't that interesting? I don't know what any of it means, save that this listing became a litany of sorts and I like myself a little more for it.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Olga re: Tom Waits

(In response to the Tom Waits version of 'Goodnight Irene' in which three or four of him take drunken pot-shots at the melody)

"He sounds like cats. They don't call him Tom for nothing."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I am incapable of forming habits. While in the main this has preserved me from sloth, addiction, and golf, I am now realizing that it has also held me back. All I want to do now, to add bodies daily to the bonfire of my prose, to acquire Russian beyond the proficiency of an angry drunk, to send arrows of my work out into the world and see where they stick, to maintain my body and my home so that I am ashamed of neither, more or less require ritual and routine.

Shit- I need to throw in some laundry.

But instead I am thrown into a punji pit of energy, lethargy, inspiration, forgetfulness, distraction and self destruction.

So I'm attempting to acquire some bad habits. If I can succeed in making a bad habit, then perhaps I will be able to make some good habits as well. At this point, I'll take the exchange. Gotta go have a cigaratte. Any ideas for other bad habits I can try out?



(Of the voice of Tom Waits) "It sounds like a squeaky mattress but three octaves lower." --Olga Kuchment (my wife!)


"It looks like someone's garden shat in your fridge!" --Anna Neher


It has been a sweet day of pure solitude- the first I have had in some time, and I have used it well. I cooked some, read some, wrote a lot, and received a beautiful email from a dear friend. If this continues, I'll have Edges of Bounty polished off by the weekend, and will then start submitting chapters to magazines and will also start the edibilist food blog.

Now the food blog could be used in a few ways. I'd like to see how popular it could be- some of these food blogs have over 10,000 hits a day-and a few probably have many, many more. It would be a great way to promote the book, and the idea of the book.

Option 1: z'all about me!
If I write the blog all on my own, it has promotes my writing, which might (who knows?) lead to a regular column at some magazine or newspaper, and establishes some kind of brand ownership if there is any interest or use to the world for edibilism. I.e. If the idea does well, I do well. On the other hand, my posting ethic and the unevenness of the give-a-shit of my writing could be a bullet in the head of the whole she-bang.

Option 2: with our powers combined, we are...
If I form a small cadre of writers and set a fairly loose set of standards for the blog, then I create an instant community that might prove to be a model for other places, or at least create the illusion that the idea has some legs. I also increase (in theory) the frequency of posts. Probably it would also be possible to organize the posts by author, so if anyone liked a writers work especially, they could filter for that writer alone. If any of these other writers have opportunities to write for magazines or papers, all the better for everyone. Possible con? The intent and form of the blog becomes muddied and the edibilist idea is lost.

Option 3: edibilist, inc.
If I use the edibilist blog as a way to gather the broadest number of voices to the idea, then I'd be able to use it as a sort of food writing best of, which would win me a nice spot in the food blog world, and invite edibilist-ish stories from readers-I'd make the blog more like a magazine, essentially. Then I'd be able to maintain editorial authority and daily post duties, but also have the opportunity to sink the edibilist idea into as many minds as possible for when the book comes out. Cons are obvious: the hassle (see the fluxuation of my give-a-shit x10) and the quality over all of the writing is likely to go down. Also, it would take a great deal more energy to start, and a great deal more web design, etc knowledge than I currently posses.

So, what's an ambitious young man who wants to do right by his book to do?

Dress to Impress at the Monterey Market

I remembered yesterday, as part of a small breakthrough in my Edges of Bounty book, that I actually love food. I love fresh vegetables. Strange-looking cabbage, parsnips, and turnips. I'd yet to eat a blood orange this season. I remembered that I know something about food, and that I enjoy preparing it and feeding it to people. Just holding a beet grimed with dirt and sand is an event. Was that what I was thinking when I thought up this book after all? Where had that inspiration been?

So I packed up my computer and went to the Monterey Market. I was wearing this brown suit jacket that lends me much more style and respectability than I deserve or can rightly bear. I believe I could be naked under it and still get a window seat at the best restaurants.

"Excuse me," she says, reaching awkwardly around my torso towards a ruby red grapefruit and never taking her eyes from mine. Why is this beautiful Italian woman looking at me like this? Do I shove her down and run away? Instead, I turn a little beety and try to mind my own business. Those meyer lemons look great. She follows me but I ignore her. Are those mangos ripe? I set my hands on a few mangos, squeezing them gently, careful not to bruise them. They're not quite ready-- Hey! Why am I blushing? Gah! She's looking at me again. Can't a man fondle a mango without some over-heated continental presuming adultry? I begin grabbing all my purchases with my ringed hand.

Once in the store proper, she is more subtle. We're a couple bins apart rather than reaching towards the same papaya. Then, near the savoy cabbage, she makes her move. Our carts had idled side by side while I bagged some brussel sprouts and when I returned
she has taken my cart by accident and is walking away. I'm about to say something when she pauses and looks over her shoulder to see if I noticed the switch.

"I think that's my cart."
"Oh? Oh it is. I don't know what I was thinking."
"Is this your butter lettuce?"
"Yes!" she says, touching my arm before taking the head of lettuce from me.

I back-tracked after that and stared at the fresh herbs for a while while she made her way down the apple aisle, and then the mushrooms. At check out, she was in the shortest line but I chose a longer one because I am not immune to pretty women. As she walked out she caught my eye again and winked.

The last several trips to the market I've had lesser and by no means propositional encounters, but I always wind up talking to some woman or another. --How do you tell if a melon is ripe? --Well, it depends on the type... or --Will you hold my place in line? You have everything I forgot I needed.

Living with Grits. Part one of an on-going series.

The Grits Omelette

It must be some violation of human decency to prepare a meal perfectly for two with no leftovers. In the realm of possibility, I will grant, but in the domain of perverts, freaks, fiends and slaves to abominable habits. So when Olga demands grits, we have more than we can eat in one sitting and they turn cold and hard in the refridgerator so that to be eaten again they must be sliced and fried or baked.

But that is dull. They could be used in a stir-fry in the same manner as tofu, I guess, or...

And so the grits omelette was born. Take cold, diced grits and fry them with some oil and onions and I like shredded carrots for color. The trick-because there must always be a trick-is to let them fry for a good long time, letting all the flavors invade every soppy pore of your bits of grits. Then throw in your whisked eggs. I've been adding a teaspoon or more of mayonaisse to the eggs to good effect. KEEP THE HEAT MEDIUM TO LOW you impatient gets. Never rush an omelette. Honestly, I know you people. You don't have anything better to do. Add your shredded cheese. I've good luck with gouda. Do the folding flipping bit and then serve it with some sour cream and/or hot sauce. I've made it thrice in the last 24 hours and it plumps and pleases.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sleepers Awake on the Precipice

"The moon's astonished mug stares in at her window. Sad, ghostly herds wander down the blue courses of heaven. The air tastes of comfortable, tired clockes and the gingery sleep of old houses. In the lives of wells and orchards and ruined fences there is a strange quickening--almost as though the history of what is seperate from the knowledge of men, were merged, in some hidden manner, and by an agency as mysterious as that of sea and wind and stone, in a fiery river whose one bank is life and whose other bank is not death. The most beautiful and desolate thing in the world is a country village at night. Every sounds should be the gentle conspiring of angels ; the steeple of a church, it is the up-stretching pinky of some forgotten queen; this hillside, a cluster of brown deer awaiting only the horn of a terrible huntsman to set them down lanes where positions of black stars hurry. Given a voice, this village would say: Nothing can alarm God. Given feet to walk, it would go where the most pitiful cry moves the sternest heart. So still is this wonder; so without change is the grandeur of a leaf-O Father the bell-brooding streets of this dear and horrible place..."

I've chosen this passage for its lyricism, but it is neither typical nor atypical of the novel. It steals words and styles from noir detectives, polemicists, poets, pornographers, absurdists, prayer books, surrealists, and sea adventures, loads the prose into a shotgun and fires the bits into the pages. Here's a more or less random sample of other text.

"Then be thankful she acts grown up about it. I was expecting her to take it pretty hard. I wish you didn't feel it necessary to drink a quart of whiskey before breakfast everyday, Haz."--But is she being grown up about it, Tom? Oh that's just a habit."--"What do you mean? I must say it's one hell of an expensive habit."--Well, for one thing, she hasn't cried...not even once. I have to get a little fun out of life."--"What good would crying do her? Besides, how do you know she hasn't? She's been off alone enough to have cried it all out of her system. I should fun you with a baseball bat."--"I'd know if she had. She's just sort of all tense and knotted up. Keep Freud out of this."


Gee the girls were pretty. In the grove where the stranger lay, his throat slit from ear to ear--I'd heard about it, of course, how the girls would suddenly turn into clouds and trees and rabbits etc. But Plusis--Well, perhaps Plusis just wasn't too quick in the head-such a lovely one too...golden hair and the bluest eyes...Plusis well off first base and just rounding second when--
Plusis, I'm ashamed of you... a poor innocent tree...
But how the hell am I going to get out of here!
It was a pretty delicate operation.
You'd naturally think something like that would be enough for anybody. But not our Plusis! The next an extremely nifty brunette and I could almost hear him saying to himself Boy here is some really hot stuff. And he was right--I have never see a finer bonfire...


It was all of three months after the accident. That day I sat with my enemy on a wooden bench near the Tree of Sorrow. His skin was the color of a carrot's liver. The weather was all over everything and we talked loudly to drown out the sound the elves made as they ran over the counters where the wind had his coughsyrup in big jars of leaves and the dreams of little birds.
"How did you lose you eye?" he asked timidly.
"It was gouged out while I was building a city."
We watched a ligenna swim past in the cold grey lake.
"She can't be more than a thousand miles out," he said deliberately. "I don't remember ever seeing one so far inshore before."
I nodded. "It has my whole sympathy," I said.
Rain. I regretted that I had not bothered to dress. Frightening--wet branches against your hide. Too fish near.
"What's it made of?" he demanded suddenly-- "glass?"
I told him it wasn't.
We--"What then! Speak up, man!"--watched two ancient hags uncouple a chapel from a ten-ton truck. Their faces had grown over their eyes.
I knelt at the altar. A comic book had been places squarely between seven orange candles.
"What then? If not glass--speak, man, for the love of God!"
I told him I was not at liberty to tell him. He sank his teeth into his wrist and started to drink as fast as ever he could.
The best cure for insomnia is to sleep with all the windows open.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


One of the narrators of the book I am re-reading has invented a clever device. He has a patent and everything-he's just looking for some start-up capital to build and distribute the item. It's a small machine made of a special light weight lead that whirrs softly. After a time, the whirring stops and it raises and waves a white flag. It is called a WNTTLFACIOMEO, which is an acronym for Why Not Try To Live For A Change Instead Of Murdering Each Other.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The leaves outside my window of a thorny bush into which I regularly empty my mop bucket full of olive oil, shoe dirt, beer, the slug trails left by dropped slices of avocado, and bleach are curved, cupped like hands to receive the light of the sun. The paper of the leaves are made to burn like lanterns. They collect light like taxmen.

The light speeds them towards seed then redeems them. This is the merchandise of redemption.

I almost let noon pass before having a drink. Then I caught myself.

The backsides of our apartments are old-earth flat. The walls are an adobe brown that seems hard and white when in full sun but mottled like the face of the moon. The sun on the building is as the sun on a sword.

A thorn bush that scratches my window is making lanterns of its leaves. The bush is hateful to me, but I see that in this moment, seen from the dark place in which I sit, it is beautiful. When I wash the floors of my kitchen I take great pleasure in pouring the black alchemy of exhausted bleach water into it. The bush will not die. The inherited rosebush in back is turning into its own husk. A lesson, perhaps. My desire to set a boot on the throat of my own evil does not nourish the good. Perhaps that is how we know evil. Evil is that which will not die.

The leaves collect light like taxmen.

A taxman is a New Testament truth to me. He comes to the door, snarling like a dog, a ruined soul branded by the distant, indifferent Romans. His stink confounded luxury and sweat. No one told Christ that he could not raise the dead. Indeed, it was demanded of him and he performed the feat casually on his way to other places. He invited only disapproval when he staunched the stoning of Magdalene.

But Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see.

Redeeming the taxman was the unthinkable. And how odd, that the foundation of the discontent that shaped our nation was themed thus: not that we paid a taxman. That we paid someone else's taxman. Democracy has, apparently, redeemed the beast, and taken him, somehow, from us, by bringing him back into the fold-or by leading us to him.

There is honey in the scent of the fig tree.

There is honey in the scent of the fig tree.

When a child-- in childhood-- in the wilderness of youth--

I was a child. I fashioned boats from leaves. The cupping they performed for the sun made of them, in death, vessels impervious to water. I took seeds of wheat and promoted them to captain and crew. They sailed the round moss-islanded waters of our horse tank. The only solid land was a two by four thrown in so the occasional squirrel or raccon would not drown. I stoned the ships until they sank. Dried parchment-white gourds, halved, were superior ships to leaves. They would bear a twig mast and I lashed oak leaves to the twig, though the innovation was more sculpture than sail. Cottonwood leaves sailed better than any other leaf, and pleased with the elegance of their fatness. These ships might survive for half an hour or more.

There is a Merwin poem that begins: I have been cruel to a fat pigeon. I will give you the poem whole.

I have been cruel to a fat pigeon
Because he would not fly
All he wanted was to live like a friendly old man

He had let himself become a wreck filthy and confiding
Wild for his food beating the cat off the garbage
Ignoring his mate perpetually snotty at the beak
Smelling waddling having to be
Carried up the ladder at night content

Fly I said throwing him into the air
But he would drop and run back expecting to be fed
I said it again and again throwing him up
As he got worse
He let himself be picked up every time
Until I found him in the dovecote dead
Of the needless efforts

So that is what I am

Pondering his eye that could not
Conceive that I was a creature to run from

I who have always believed too much in words

—W. S. Merwin

The sun has not gone away as I thought it would. I believed it would dry up as soon as my little letters appeared on the screen. Vanity of vanities.

What then am I? A leaf to the sun a bell a hand a curled tongue? The sun is on me as the sun is on a sword. But is it peace or resignation that inevitability satisfies?