Non-Fiction – The Inquisitive Eater New School Food Mon, 21 Aug 2017 21:00:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘Sitia-Style Snails,’ by Joan Haladay Sat, 08 Jul 2017 15:00:22 +0000 Water is the most elemental ingredient of a Greek meal.  It is life and survival reduced to the contents of a glass.  As Henry Miller wrote in The Colossus of  Maroussi,  “…everywhere I saw the glass of water.  It became obsessional.  I began to think of water as a new thing, a new vital element of life.  Earth, air, fire, water.  Right now water became the cardinal element.”  So it was during my Greek stay too.  Yet, as much as some travelers to Sitia, wanted to follow Miller’s path, to contemplate and speak poetically about the elements and their sacred qualities, such aspirations were being altered by fate.

A few were immediately conscripted, and most transportation stopped.  Instead of just water, visitors were forced to be preoccupied with vehicle fuel.  We were grounded in Sitia and on Crete, while preparations were being made for war.  While there was still a functioning taxi or two in town, gasoline was being rationed, and the taxis could only be used for emergencies.

Amidst this state of siege in picture paradise, Jo, a Greek student, who I’d met during the Piraeus-to-Crete ferry ride, stopped by the villa. She invited me and Chris, an Australian, to go to pick grapes at her aunt’s vineyard.  We met at five in the afternoon in the plaza.   Jo’s aunt had succeeded- under false pretenses- in convincing one of the cab drivers to take us to the vineyard.  It was only up the road, another kilometer or two past Madame Victoria’s, but Aunt was not the type of lady to walk.  Predilections aside, she was also wearing-high-heeled shoes that weren’t suitable for walking very far in comfort.

When we reached the vineyard- rather than finding a sickbed or another woeful destination- the driver realized that he’d been duped.   It caused a row with Aunt of considerable length and drama.  While I couldn’t follow the verbal argument in Greek, their hand waving and wringing provided the gist of it in gestures.  He was worried about both fuel and fines.  Without reaching a resolution with Aunt, the driver finally abandoned us to the land and drove off.   In spite of Aunt’s pleading, he would not return to take us back to town.

My focus quickly shifted to the lovely spot.  I soon forgot both the driver and the war preparations.  There were sand- and rock-covered tracks leading back to the grapevines, which sat on a slope amidst almonds and pomegranates.  By then, the afternoon was heading toward the blue hour:  The sea in the distance was a particularly deep blue color set off and intensified by a frame of almost equally blue mountains.  The ripe grapes were violet blue, and I imagined that I was tasting the color as I swallowed my first bite of their succulent sweetness.   Once again, a sensual border had become fluid.  I wished that I could paint the grapes.  It seemed like a way to capture their essence, yet I knew too that no still life could fully contain the spirit of such grapes.  They too responded to light as heat and were living and flourishing and changing even as we stooped to pick them.

Chris and I were mostly useless as workers.  We probably ate more than half of what we picked.  We couldn’t resist, for we were unaccustomed to warm grapes, fresh from the vine, a taste that seemed like an edible spirit of place.  Jo and Aunt excused us nonetheless.  They seemed less interested in the quantity of grapes that they took home, and more concerned with preventing waste.  Aunt knew- in spite of her town clothes and physical languidness- that the grapes would begin to ferment if they baked on the vines for another day or two.  She had to seize their moment, whether there was a war going on or not.

After we’d picked the grapes, we also collected snails.  They seemed to be everywhere.  We picked them off the base of trees, off the grapevines, and off other unidentified, fragile plants that seemed too slender to bear the snails that they were supporting.   Jo said that the snails would be good to eat and told Chris and me to keep them.  She instructed us on how to prepare them in the tiny communal villa kitchen that neither of us had ever used.  Jo became insistent that Chris and I should eat a simple repast in Sitia that we would prepare with our own hands.

We walked home at sunset.  Along the way, we collected a few sprigs of flowers that Jo said opened only at the sunset hour.   I wanted to press at least one in my journal as a souvenir of the excursion.  It felt as if the blue hour, the dark, juicy grapes, the unexpected snail gathering, and the place-induced sense of well-being had made us open up like sunset flowers too.  I wanted to carry away a memento of the occasion and hoped the flower would embody its essence:  In the future, when I looked at the flower, it would be a trigger for remembrance in the way that a wine can be the pressed essence of sun, soil, and grape history.

En route, we stopped at the trough of a neighbor for a drink of water.  The pause was another watery step in a Sitia day that seemed to be fueled by careful relationships with water.  Aunt grumbled some of the way, since her shoes pinched and her soles hurt from the high heels.  She may never have walked that far before in her life.   However, even she grew quiet as time passed.  Maybe Aunt could see the magic of the evening through our thrilled traveler senses.   Sometimes the traveler without even realizing it also bears gifts.  When we reached the villa entrance, we all embraced as much to heal any outstanding disgruntlements as to say farewell.  Then, Chris and I departed with our bags of snails.

We deposited them in the communal kitchen and found some battered and blackened pots and mismatched dishes of irregular sizes.  Neither of us had prepared or even eaten snails before.  Our efforts became quite a fumble of Jo’s meticulous instructions.  We let the water boil over and extinguish the light on the stove.  Then, we let the boiling stop once the snails were in the pot.  When we realized what had happened, we had to bring the water to a boil for a second time.  Our final recipe was an improvisation and mélange of Jo’s original instructions, our bungling efforts to execute them, the German guests’ kibitzing, and Madame Victoria’s gift.

“First, clean the snails by scraping them with a knife,” Jo had advised.  “Then put them into cool water.  Discard the ones that float, since they are probably dead.  Transfer the remaining snails to a pot of boiling water.  Cook them for about five minutes.  Drain them and shell them.”   We added- “assembly-line style”- to her instructions for shelling.  This involved use of a board, a stone, and a strong male German arm for cracking. Finally, there were two sets of hands for picking the snails out of their shells.  “Serve them with a sprinkle of lemon juice, salt, and pepper,” Jo had concluded.

There were variations to her last instruction to consider.  Even she had offered the alternative to eat the snails au natural, but added, “Then drink ouzo with them.”  The Germans insisted upon contributing thick slices of bread for mopping up the lemon juice, after they had also provided the lemons.  We found the salt and pepper stashed among the kitchen utensils.  There was also some discussion about using olive oil and vinegar to flavor the snails.

Madame Victoria had come out of her own kitchen, when she heard the unusual frenzy that was emerging from the guest kitchen.  She watched our efforts and negotiations attentively and silently, but offered no new advice about how to salvage and serve the snails.  Finally, she headed off to her own larger and better stocked kitchen.  She wasn’t gone for long.  Madame Victoria reemerged a minute later.  In her hands, she carried a platter of earthy, garlicky olive oil-dressed potato cubes, slender green beans, and peppery tomatoes that were nearly dissolving into a rough sauce.

Her garnish for the snails, which was really a dish in its own right, was the most delicious of the choices.  How could it have been otherwise, since so many of the ingredients in the dish came from her garden?  In their vegetable flesh, they contained the miracle of the water, the balance between heat and light, and the tender and devoted care of Madame Victoria.  Through her vegetable dish, she extended the same nurture to us. Chris and I bloomed for the second time, becoming evening flowers under Madame Victoria’s tending.  If there were any still-closed shells left among the other guests, they opened as we ate.  There were no longer strangers among us as we were all susceptible to friendly warmth.  We had responded to Madame Victoria’s hospitality and generosity.  They seemed to never stop growing inside her.  Amidst a war, through her guidance and the thin line between Greek public and private space, we’d established our own peaceable queendom at the villa.

Joan Haladay lives in Northern Manhattan. She has prepared indexes for many books. Luso-Brazilian interests are her avocation. She likes to write fiction and non-fiction about place, travel, food, and literature. Her work has been published in Travelers’ Tales Provence, Travelers’ Tales The World Is a Kitchen, The Brasilians, Under the Sun, Small Press, Independent Publisher, and the New York Times “Metropolitan Diary.”

TIE Essay of the Month: ‘Eating & Not Eating’, by Holly Rice Sat, 29 Apr 2017 19:32:23 +0000 When I was thirteen, my mother and father bred Berkshire pigs. We kept a few for the freezer and sent the rest off to be packaged and sold. The first time our sow had her litter, my father woke me at five in the morning to watch her give birth. The piglets and their mother had a run of their own. They ate feed supplemented with table scraps: melons and old scrambled eggs and stale bread. They rolled in mud made fresh by the rain and rooted around in the straw when they were brought inside. They taunted our Newfoundland from their side of the fence. They let my brother and sister and me chase them around in our rubber boots. They let themselves be caught and scratched under the chins. When they grew old enough, they were put on the truck and the next time I’d see them they were pink and juicy on the plate. Eating meat was easy.

Now that I’m twenty-four, my parents don’t breed pigs anymore. The hobby farm I grew up on was packaged and sold. Our Newfoundland died years ago. My mother and father aren’t married to each other and I don’t eat meat. Growing up while watching animals carted off for slaughter wasn’t the reason I became a vegan. If anything, it was the reason I ate meat for as long as I did – my family watched those pigs grow up full and happy and lazy in the sun. Their existence, while whose purpose was eventually to become food, wasn’t dark or marred with cruelty. What I knew of farming meat was from the acre of land that ran between the barn and the forest that claimed the rest of our property.

In early January, I watched a Yarmouth fisherman torture and mutilate a seal pup on the deck of his boat in a video he posted online. Hunting seals is a common practice in Canada that I accept, even as a vegan, as an important part of culture and industry when it’s done with a hand of empathy. As the fisherman kicked the pup in the head, and dragged its squealing, bloody body across the floor, I had to look away before the inevitable end. The fisherman laughed at the animal’s terror and the man behind the camera egged him on. The seal wasn’t threatening that particular fisherman’s livelihood. The man wasn’t fishing cod, or halibut, or salmon. He was fishing lobster.

In January, Donald Trump was sworn in as President. I couldn’t seem to escape the cruelty of the everyday: the Muslim ban, attacks on Planned Parenthood, and the denial of the state of the physical earth. But each time I went to the grocery store and skipped over the dairy aisle and ignored the cases of shining, pretty meat, I felt like I was doing my part to negate some of what is wrong in the world. I couldn’t save that seal pup. I couldn’t stop Donald Trump from becoming President. But I could invest my money in Gotham Greens and So Delicious and Beyond Meat, companies that are cruelty-free and operate with the environment in mind. Veganism has forced me to try new things: lentils, white beans, cashew cheeses, non-dairy milks. Cooking with these new discoveries exercised my creativity when I couldn’t seem to get words on the page. My veganism became synonymous with my activism.

It is not the animal that dies, but rather, the type of hand that feeds it. We ate pork once it was ready because it was farmed without dark, cramped pens, without mass-production, without forgetting that while a life might have a purpose, that it must be sparkling and bright while it lasts. I would eat meat again if my parents were still together, if they still had that hobby farm, if they still raised animals with the love that comes with keeping something alive.

Holly Rice is a creative writing MFA candidate at The New School and the Deputy Editor of the Inquisitive Eater. She is the 2015 recipient of the Nova Scotia Talent Trust’s RBC Emerging Artist Award and lives in Williamsburg. Her book reviews can be found in Boog City and on

featured image via Farmers Weekly.

‘Alpiner’, by Amy Lawless Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:00:42 +0000 texascomputer


Let me tell you something: climbing a mountain builds character. On top of that, I believe that every young person should climb at least one mountain around puberty. It will teach all sorts of important skills [e.g., to increase spatial awareness, to maneuver tricky physical spaces, to hone a healthy fear of death, to increase an appreciation of trail mix and Good Old Raisins and Peanuts (GORP), and of course, to accurately sharpen the rage against whatever authority in their young lives made them climb that fucking mountain in the first place.

Better yet, if you are a young person, climb a fucking mountain with a parent, relative, or mentor! That way you’ll be able to take note of this older person’s mortality lay bare—perhaps, as in my case, for the first time since the moment of my own birth.  While I don’t remember experiencing my own birth, it certainly happened because there are photos and stories and well, I’m here. Hearing my dear mother curse in disbelief that we had ever stepped foot on Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire with my CCD group from Holy Name Church in West Roxbury, Massachusetts was life changing. It was informative to witness her struggle up and around weird boulder formations and to see her slide down the face of the mountain on her tush as she encouraged me to do the same by example.

First of all, our parents are supposed to be models of behavior.  If she could do it, I had to at least try.  My mother has not the patience of Job. Instead, she has the impatience of a comedian who truly loves to complain by cracking jokes and giggling and talking shit about the priest who led us there. When confronted with her own mortality, she transforms from a nice devout Catholic woman into an observational comedian: think lovechild of George Carlin and Joan Rivers.  Sigmund Freud once wrote that all jokes are about either sex or death. Well, these jokes were all death. It was almost as if by joking about dying and dangers, my mom was preventing us (me and whoever else would listen) from giving up. This was ever more helpful to me than Father Sughrue and his giant walking stick. We get it, you’re supposed to be the shepherd, and we’re the sheep! A little on the nose?  



Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau adored Mount Monadnock. They couldn’t get enough. Emerson loved it so much he wrote the poem “Monadnoc,” and some consider it his most famous poem. Galway Kinnell wrote “Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock,” which you can find  in full here.  In this poem, Kinnell’s speaker laughs at himself and considers his own death.  If death is the great equalizer, then a mountain is death’s doorstep with all its dangerous charms.


I can support it no longer.

Laughing ruefully at myself

For all I claim to have suffered

I get up. Damned nightmarer!


It is New Hampshire out here,

It is nearly the dawn.

I, too, stood on its peak, which was absent vegetation or trees due to two fires set many years ago.  The first fire was set by settlers in 1800 in order to make room for pastures for farming. Twenty years later, settlers set it on fire again because of wolves.  But this second fire turned into a devastating one.  Things went out of control. This fire lasted weeks and spread up the peak, taking off the soil and removing the chance of anyone farming on it for a long, long while.  However, because the mountaintop is without trees, the view is just stunning.

Galway Kinnell may have also believed that he was going to die on Monadnock  when he wrote this:   


The last memory I have

Is of a flower that cannot be touched,


Through the bloom of which, all day,

Fly crazed, missing bees.

And  saw his own death in his reflection:


I kneel at a pool,

I look through my face

At the bacteria I think

I see crawling through the moss.


My face sees me,

The water stirs, the face,

Looking preoccupied,

Gets knocked from its bones.



I weighed eleven pounds

At birth, having stayed on

Two extra weeks in the womb.

Tempted by room and fresh air

I came out big as a policeman

Blue-faced, with narrow red eyes.

It was eight days before the doctor

Would scare my mother with me.

We both climbed the same mountain.  And there he goes, talking about the moment of his birth (see the first and second paragraphs of this piece), and his own mother.  I see you there, Galway Kinnell.



On this peak, Father Sughrue said a quick mass, gave us communion and a vanilla “inspirational” sermon about overcoming obstacles. He wanted the very fact that we had made it to the top of the mountain to serve as a metaphor for achievements and our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Something about Jesus being with us on that peak. For a moment on the top of the mountain, I felt slightly intoxicated with a sort of victory—I was a rat to Sughrue’s Pied Piper:  I was on the top of a mountain!!!!!!!!!  This high wore off quickly after my mother deadpanned that the communion, this body of Christ we consumed/ate, would also be our Last Supper as we likely would never make it to the bottom of the mountain to the group’s bus or to safety.  She vividly described our dad and little sister blissfully unaware of our present peril while they enjoyed the warm creature comforts of our home in Roslindale. Maybe Jesus was back home with them too: we couldn’t see him on that peak.

Saying the thing that was true lightened the atmosphere. In that moment, to state that we felt in a little bit of danger was funny and necessary because that was the truth. We needed to hold on to something. The ground was not secure or even, but laughing was stabilizing for us. Of course we made it down the mountain. We made it home, but the world was much bigger and more hilarious than it was when I had awoken that morning.



As a child I played a Texas Instruments Home Computer video game called Alpiner.  

When I set out to write this, I wanted to argue that I had prepared myself to climb Mount Monadnock through my mastery of this old video game.  But that would be massively fallacious reasoning.  Playing Alpiner prepared me for only one thing: playing more video games. Climbing the mountain, however, prepared me for life, nuance, and even responsibility. It also, as I think is clear, gave me a new appreciation of my mother, whose humor radiated when fussing over her mortal coil.

After selecting the option to play Alpiner alone, I slowly selected the three letters in my first name (A, M, Y) by toggling a joystick and pressing an orange button. Then I set a course up a mountain. A digital version of the classical piece Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg played as I climbed. I viewed my avatar from behind: third person—as a whole figure who could see his entire surroundings.  (The avatar was always male.) Falling rocks were avoided by jamming the joystick hard right or hard left.  A bear would appear in the distance and would always remain in the same space so could thereby be avoided quietly and quickly.  Same for mountain lions and snakes and trees.  The only hazard difficult to avoid were the skunks, which would appear quite suddenly misting a red net of dots toward my “guy.”  This net was hard to miss.

A skunking is not fatal, but it always sends you to the bottom of the mountain.

Has a skunk ever sprayed you in your life? No. Me neither.

One night my mom smelled a skunk while driving in the car or during a walk or while we were hanging out in the backyard. She said “I don’t mind the smell. I kind of like it.” I believed her.

The world was, indeed, always much more interesting when something was actually happening. I also thought it was fun to imagine taking a bath in tomato juice, the only cure known to me for a skunking in my limited understanding of the natural world. What if our showers rained red juice? What if the slanted walking condition portrayed in V8 commercials could only end with a red bath?  I’ve never been sprayed by a skunk in my waking life, so I still don’t know what it’s like to sink into a cold tomato juice bath.

But I have come to know what it is like to bleed and feel blind rage at the same time, for I am a woman in a body.  I shed blood on a monthly basis. For me, a brief, spiritual rage precedes each monthly bleeding.  It is not a rage at anything/anyone (i.e., it is not directed at anything or anyone), which makes it ever more terrifying and curious.  It is a rage that craves an object, and when it finds no object is shelved. My rage is like a skunk on an abandoned mountaintop looking for climbers.  Krista Tippett, host of the On Being podcast, once said in an interview that  “anger is often what pain looks like when it shows itself in public.”  

To put it another way, a skunk in a video game is what pain looks like.

When I read Homer’s Iliad senior year of high school, I gave intense and curious side-eye to the rage of Achilles. When Achilles’ best friend Patroclus was murdered by a Trojan fighter named Hector, Achilles flew into a rage.  He was so angry at Hector that he told him “my rage, my fury would drive me now to hack your flesh away and eat you raw – such agonies you have caused me.”  That’s serious brotherly love. This rage consumed him with such a totality that Achilles compared the object of his anger to another object: a meal he would consume in a cannibalistic fury.  See, he’s so “consumed” by the death of Patroclus symbolically, he says he might as well eat the guy who he blames for his death in order to bring the whole thing to a sort of completion.   

No, Achilles did not eat Hector. He killed him. And after he killed him, he dragged the corpse around attached to the back of his chariot defiantly for many days like tin cans on the back of newlywed couple’s car. Those newlyweds want you to hear their tin cans. Achilles wanted everyone to see Hector’s corpse. Achilles was like a skunk on the mountain in Alpiner in his own way. He aimed his wrath at anyone who messed with his territory (e.g., his best friend).

In Alpiner, the skunking seemed to be a consistent response to the mountaineer’s presence as an intruder on the mountain. Unlike the bears, snakes, mountain lions, and rocks, which exist on their own regardless of the player, the skunk and its scented anus secretions seemed to be aware of my avatar’s presence.  If I stayed off the mountain, if I didn’t play the game, if I stayed inside reading a good book, I would be safe from a skunk’s red netted orb of rage.

I just Googled “How to Get Rid of Skunk Smell” and it appears that there are many, many treatments. I’m good at Googling things.  Tomato juice isn’t even on the list; in fact, it is said to just cover up the smell and does not actually clean a body of a skunk’s spray, which can cause nausea, vomiting, and short-term blindness in humans.  I’ve got nothing in my anus as powerful.  

If you really want to get the stink of a skunking off yourself, try mixing hydrogen peroxide with apple cider vinegar and some water and dish soap.  Shampoo your whole body with this mixture.  Shampoo your whole body like you’re not yourself.


In Alpiner, you progressed the chapters in the game from mountain to mountain the way any professional mountain climber’s career would. You started with the mountains of lowest elevation and you progressed with experience.  You started with Mount Hood (11,249 feet), then Matterhorn (14,692 ft), then Mount Kenya (17,057 feet), then Mount McKinley (now called Denali) (20,310 ft), then Mount Garmo (21,637 ft), and finally Mount Everest (29,029 ft).  Once you successfully climbed Everest, the game was over.  The glitchy digital Peer Gynt “music” crescendoed again in volume: but not to tell you that danger is present, but to concede that triumph was yours. You won!  You’re on the top of a mountain!

I could Climb Mount Hood in approximately ten seconds.

I practiced a lot and did indeed climb to the top of this digital Mount Everest. I have no recollection of playing the game after that fine achievement. While it felt pretty good to reach the peak, in doing so my hunger for playing this game was satiated with finality.

Did you know that sometimes when a person actually dies climbing Mount Everest, no one comes to get the body? Did you know there are some corpses up there in the peaks there totally frozen? If the dispatchers can, they talk to you on your walkie talkie until your voice fades, your breath becomes shallow, and you die.  Every search party costs something (the time and energy of those looking for the lost, money, resources), and the risk of additional human life is often  not worth it. Would you want others to risk this treacherous trip only to also die–just to allow your loved ones to reclaim the frozen husk of your corporeal form? You’re an angel dancing through the gilded gates of heaven strumming tunes on your shiny new harp, what do you care? You’re clinking champagne flutes with Satan in hell, what do you care?

In Alpiner, when you aim your character to the side end of the screen  (perhaps to avoid falling rocks), the avatar disappears off screen for a moment, only to appear on the other side of the screen. This kind of thing would never fly in 21st century video games. Yeah, when you disappear, you just appear again nearby. Continuity errors like this remove a suspension of disbelief the game’s creators had, I guess, failed to cultivate.  

In Back to the Future Part 2, Marty McFly has to avoid seeing himself during the “Enchantment Under The Sea Dance” while securing the Sports Almanac from Biff because one version of himself is already playing guitar on stage.  If the two Martys ever, by chance, saw each other, something horrible would happen.  When I look in the mirror, my goal is to not dislike whatever it is that I see, so I can only imagine the horrors of seeing a time traveling version of myself!  I would happily slip away stage right with a hat over my face only to reappear stage left with my hat in hand.

I won my sixth grade Geography Bee at Holy Name School in West Roxbury, Massachusetts by identifying the second highest mountain in the world (it’s K2).  This won me a copy of Rattle and Hum by U2 on audio cassette.   


I carried Rattle and Hum home proudly.  My parents were proud and excited. They loved and love rock and roll. I had never heard of U2 in my life up to that point, but they sure had.  We listened to a few tracks together as I recounted my victory, and then I squirreled away the double cassette tape set into my bedroom and played it on my tiny red cassette deck. One song U2 covered called “Helter Skelter” boomed. It was messy. I liked it. I didn’t know that this was a cover of a Beatles song or of Charles Manson’s culty appropriation of the term to explain away the brutality of his violence.

When Paul McCartney wrote the song, the term “helter skelter” in UK slang meant “disorderly haste or confusion.”

When I imagine taking a V8 shower, I think of the film Carrie and the prom scene:  all the blood and the bullies. When I think of bullies, I think of Charles Manson convincing his Family to do horrible bullshit. I think of the greatly pregnant dead Sharon Tate and her blood pressed first into fingertips and then into the arcs and lines of blood to form the word Pig written on the door.  


I refuse to make sense of someone (Charles Manson) using rhetoric (say, like the performative utterance as popularized by J.L. Austin) to make things, horrible things happen.

I read the nonfiction book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bulgosi and Curt Gentry about Charles Manson and the Manson family while commuting on the bus from my parents’ house in Roslindale to Boston University one summer for my summer job.  The bus pulled wide high hilly turns in Brookline as my stomach pitted at the violence of Manson’s life.  Manson took the phrase “Helter Skelter” from the Beatles song. The house Sharon Tate was murdered in by Manson’s family was situated in a deep ravine called Benedict Canyon. Benedict Canyon was created by rainwater dripping over a tremendously long period of time and runs north to south.


I am pretty fearful of new climbing experiences because I am afraid of heights. When I am on the edge of a cliff, or the top floor of a skyscraper, even one rung up a stepladder, or the edge of a subway underpass, the edge of a ravine or canyon, my inside forearms tingle painfully, and I become lightheaded. When invited to rooftop shindigs I stay near a wall, facing as far away from the edge as possible. I avoid looking at the ground below. Otherwise I am haunted by an imaginary seamstress touching and pressing thousands of pins and needles into my forearms: that’s how it feels to be afraid of heights.

As I sat far away from the edge of a naturally formed cliff in Ireland on a trip right after college, my friends who did not have a fear of heights sat right near the edge. It wasn’t one of those famous cliffs that people send postcards about or meaningfully name-check in Irish folk songs. This cliff was just some random not-too-steep locale.  When my friends approached the edge, I watched them. Physical pain overcame my body. I was fearful of their deaths and of something horrible happening. Why couldn’t I just sit there and enjoy all the shades of green: a particular beauty I’ve thought of many times since? My brain is hardwired  to avoid cliffs; my brain thinks they’re dangerous.

In that moment, I could have used the right joke. Know what I mean?  But my mom was nowhere to be found to provide levity.  You know, I could have just really used a good joke that reminded me that, sure I was a mortal entity, but that I was also temporarily in the safe harbor of a sunny field overlooking a cliff.

Some moments can be constellated back to different experiences: these are partially traceable and yet unwilling to be precisely held. As an adult you know that no one is fully protected from the meaninglessness and cruelty of the world at large.

But the only image that my brain could conjure while I sat near that cliff was a large adult skunk appearing out of nowhere and just hosing my friends and I down off the cliff and into the wild below with some Carrie-like fury in a skunk’s version of anguish.
This is pretty funny now, but I remember it as only pure terror. And, as I learned playing Alpiner, there is nothing to be done when a skunk hoses you. You just start over.

unnamedAmy Lawless is the author of two books of poems including My Dead (Octopus Books). Her third poetry collection Broadax is forthcoming from Octopus Books this summer. A chapbook A Woman Alone is just out from Sixth Finch. With Chris Cheney she is the author of the hybrid book I Cry: The Desire to Be Rejected from Pioneer Works Press’ Groundworks Series (2016). Her poems have recently or are forthcoming in jubilatReality BeachThe VoltaWashington Square ReviewBest American Poetry 2013, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems for Every Occasion, and the Brooklyn Poets Anthology (Brooklyn Arts Press). She received a poetry fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2011. She lives in Brooklyn.

feature image via Tim_Johns.

‘Consider The Apple’, by Kate Angus Wed, 29 Mar 2017 13:00:03 +0000 Consider the Apple

  1. And its many names

     Akero: pale green strewn with white like light snow dusting leaves. Ambrosia. Annurca: the oldest, depicted in tiled frescoes beneath Herculaneum’s ashes. Arkansas Black hangs as coal in the trees. Ballyfatten, Belle de Boskoop, Bloody Ploughman. Carter’s Blue like the winter sky in cloud-heavy bloom. The spring-frog-skin green of a ripe Catshead. Chelmsford Wonder: the diffuse orange of chiffon scarves. Honeyed Elstar. In botany as on the stage, Falstaff proves a sturdy pollinator. What is it like to cultivate rich crops of Fortune? Goldspur, Greensleeves. Imagine orchards ruled by trees that bear Jupiter and King of the Pippins. The howl of wolves that is the sound Macoun. Two women who contain the oldest story of women: Maiden’s Blush and Mother. In cold mountains, the Northern Spy. A vault spilling Opals and Pink Pearls. Pound Sweet like a song of sex beneath low-hanging boughs or so quietly beside brandy bottles inside the wine cellar’s dark. Saturn in late fall, resolute and stern. Snow Apple. Winesap. And all of them a waterfall of blossoms in the spring.


  1. In the beginning

     In the Garden of Eden, the snake curled around the tree tight as a new lover clasping his hands around your waist. Then it uncoiled and slid towards Eve like a whisper: Take, eat. Aren’t we glad that she did? Some sort of echo, a kind of omen. This fruit is the fruit of the body. If we were not cast out, how would we know Paradise had ever existed? The apple is only an excuse; it’s exile that brings knowledge. We are tempted and torn asunder and rent from what we love so that we understand we are separate: this is how we learn to recognize ourselves.

     The Norsemen believed golden apples kept their gods young: Iounn was their appointed keeper. When trickster Loki lent her to a giant, the gods grew old and withered like rinds cast away. Freya, goddess of beauty, toothless; Thor, the god of strength, too weak to raise his mighty hammer. Loki donned a falcon skin to bring her back and Iounn was a nut he carried in his claws; the bereft giant pursued in the shape of an eagle. As the birds reached Asgard, the gods lit a bonfire and set the slow eagle aflame. Beside that kindling, Iounn gave the gods their youth again, the golden apples like little planets in each of their hands.

     Druids called the apple sacred. The isle of apples—Avalon—was a summerland, a kind of heaven. Merlin, the king’s magician, cast his spells from inside the arched room of an apple grove guarded by birds. His gift blossomed inside him only after he ate an apple given to him by the Faerie Queen, but that kind of gift is a knife. To know the future is to grieve forever: you see the decay behind every kiss. Before the fall of Camelot and all those other betrayals (the King cuckolded; the bastard son plotting for his father’s throne), Merlin fell in love with his young apprentice Vivian. Her beauty was clouds, fog. She took his magic and locked him inside a tree deep in the forest, trapping her former mentor behind bark. Did he read auguries in pattern of wind-swept leaves or decipher prophecies the birds sing to foresee his own future? That kind of end anyone could see. Someone old and lonely; someone young who wants to learn everything.


     Isaac Newton and the apple of gravity that never existed. William Tell and his crossbow and his son.


     Johnny Appleseed wandering America scattering seeds that then grew into trees that were themselves fecund. Of course, this is sexual; seeding the earth.


     Snow White and her stepmother’s malice: the apple that brought a glass-coffined sleep. This is everyone’s life: we wake up as the corpse-girl in the morning and go to bed terrified, seeing in the mirror the recognizable self slipping away.


  1. Today’s apples

     Apple cold in my fridge as iced champagne. Gala: a chilled party.


     Apple bitten into by a blond man walking past. So loud like crashing glass. Interrupting again the map my thoughts follow of someone I should not still miss.


  1. False Apples

     Dogbane growing near the Dead Sea’s barren shoals is called Apple of Sodom. The tendrils leak a bitter milky sap and are adorned with green globes–beautiful, but hollow.


     May Apple has other names: American Mandrake, Devil’s Apple, Wild Lemon or Duck’s Foot. A sweet fruit, but the leaves and roots contain poison.


     You can find the Thorn-Apple by its rank odor: pungent, a reek redolent of rotting flesh. It grows wild at the margins of parking lots, rubbish heaps, anywhere ruined where things decay. If you cull the seeds and take them in sufficient quantity, they bring pupil dilation (the eyes’ doors flung open to bring in additional light), giddiness and delirium, but be careful: too many and death will be your harvest.   


     The Shining-Leaved Custard Apple’s wood is so soft it stoppers bottles like cork.


     Some false apples are named for the animals that eat them: Elephant Apple, Monkey Apple, Kangaroo.


     Apples as slang for barbiturates, downers. A bushel of apples means a handful of pills.


     Malay Apple, Rose Apple, Star Apple of the West Indies.


     Thin electronic Apple on which I type this as I sit at my desk.


  1. The apple in language


     Apple for the teacher, apple of my eye, bad apple: these three phrases, shuffled into any order, contain all the love stories in the world.


  1. Ritual apples


     A branch leads diviners to water; pliable wood that forks like rivers underground. Druidic poets and shamans carried a branch constellated with bells that chimed silver as snowfall to announce their presence to new towns as they wandered.


     Two female skeletons were found in the Oseberg ship, a Viking burial mound in Norway. One wore a fine red dress and white veil; the other a blue dress with a blue veil. Surrounding them were buckets of apples.


     An apple cut crosswise reveals a five-pointed star, the symbol of Freya, Norse goddess of love.


     On Rosh Hashanah, you must eat apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year.


     During Samhain, each women wrote her secret mark on a piece of fruit and then all apples were tumbled into a cauldron to float like round red galleons on a cold sea. Men bent down to bite. When a man pulled an apple held tight within his jaws from the tub, the woman whose apple he’d chosen became his bride. Another variant was to hang the apple from the ceiling on a string–Snap Apple: the men would leap and gnash their teeth. The first to bite down on the apple was the first to bed the woman who had inscribed her name on its skin.


     Roman feasts began with an egg and finished with an apple: from alpha to omega, the beginning to the end. The egg is the tenderest new life; the apple the symbol of resurrection, the life eternal.

  1.  Apples and the body

     (a) As medicine

          Rotten apples were used as a poultice by the Puritans to restore clear sight to sore eyes.


          In Medieval Europe, an aphrodisiac salve was made of equal parts apple pulp, swine’s grease, and rosewater and then applied to the most sensitive skin.


          An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but its seeds contain trace amounts of amygdalin, a compound of sugar and cyanide.


     (b) Next to death, sex is the purest expression of the body

          A Balzac story where a countess kept a bowl of apples by her bedside so that when she entertained a lover, she could eat one before kissing him awake. This seemed like the most seductive thing—like instructions for how to be an adult woman. Dappled apples piled in a blue bowl. The taste of apple in our mouths.


          On the first day of winter, during Allantide in Cornwall, the unmarried place apples under their pillow to conjure dreams of their future spouse. In Poland, to obtain the same result you must sleep beneath an apple tree on New Year’s Eve. Imagine how cold you would be, blanketed under snow, dreaming of your future lover.


          Peel an apple in one continuous ribbon. Throw the peel behind your left shoulder and you can read your future husband’s initials in the pattern it makes on the ground.


          Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick with love (2:5). Song of Songs; the Song of Solomon


          Danish folklore claims an apple will wither if placed in the same room as adulterers.


          The snake that offered Eve the apple of temptation is so obvious in symbolism—the male body.
          What it is to admit that you want things: to take the first bite.


Kate Angus is the author of So Late to the Party (Negative Capability Press, 2016), the Creative Writing Advisor for the Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College and a founding editor of Augury Books. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic online, The Washington Post, The Awl, Verse Daily, Best New Poets 2010, Best New Poets 2014, Gulf Coast, Subtropics, The Academy of American Poets’ “Poem a Day” and Tin House’s “Open Bar.” More information about Kate can be found at

featured image via Korana Šegetalo Delić on Flickr.

Love’s Banquet, by David Lehman Mon, 27 Feb 2017 16:00:18 +0000 If poetry is love’s banquet, with minstrels reciting tales of cities sacked and sea voyages wrecked while the princely hosts and their guests lift their sacramental chalices and sip the liqueurs of contentment,

Play on, not to the sensual ear but to the spirit ditties of no tone.

Play on, if music be the food of love,

Give me excess of it.

I sip from the cup that Keats says is full of the warm south, mirth, and sun, “With beaded bubbles winking at the brim / And purple-stained mouth,” and I recommend Byron’s remedy for a hangover: “hock and soda water.”

For every poet a fruit or a sweet, plums for Williams, bananas and pineapples for Stevens; the shape of a pear (Stevens), the burst of “Joy’s grape” (Keats), and the word as delicious as the melon sweet as fresh water to the parched lips of the sailor on the abandoned raft: honeydew.

But I have a question for you, dear reader, friend and fellow admirer of the English Romantic poets as we walk hand in hand in the deer park of Magdalen College in Oxford. Why was the original transgression the consumption of a fruit rather than, say, a stroll on a prohibited path or a swim in a no-swim zone or a long dazed look at your image on the surface of a pond? It’s not: you may touch anything but this bush. It’s not: you may go anywhere but here. It is the eating of a fruit that is forbidden, the taste of the fruit that opens your eyes and reveals your shameful nakedness, man and woman, and I want to know why it has to be a fruit, it has to hang from the tree of knowledge, and you have to eat it.   

Stacey & DL La Grenoulle 2016 David Lehman has taught in the New School’s MFA Writing Program since its inception in 1996. His new book of poetry is “Poems in the Manner Of,” coming from Scribner in March 2017.

featured image via Anastasia Linska on Flickr.

Food Tank’s Reading List: 17 Books for Winter 2017 Tue, 31 Jan 2017 17:45:46 +0000 Via Food Tank

Via Food Tank


Food Tank’s most recent book recommendations…

Feed more than your belly this new year: Food Tank has gathered the latest reads for Winter 2016/2017, from the memoirs of an Asian-American peach farmer to the best manual for permaculture design. When Winter’s chill has you feeling gloomy, grab a book from the list below, and come Springtime, you could be ready to start your own sustainable garden, talk food policy, and help lead a food revolution.

For the complete list, please visit Food Tank’s website.

Hope And All Necessary Action, by Justin Marks Fri, 27 Jan 2017 17:00:01 +0000 It’s inauguration day. Instead of watching the ceremony, I go to our local seafood market where they have a special on fresh salmon. I go to the grocery store for heads of cauliflower and broccoli. The bakery for baklava and sfogliatelle. A meal for the whole family.

I baste the salmon in a mix of olive oil, lemon zest and chopped garlic. Lightly steam the cauliflower and broccoli, drain and on a baking pan brush with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Bake together at 400 for 30-40 minutes.

Protein and omega-3 fatty acids. High in fiber, rich in vitamins and minerals. Heart health and disease resistance.

Care and nurturing. Strength. A bit of sweetness. The nutrients we’ll need. An act of resistance.


We have to
protect each other
from each other

We have to
show kindness
in times when
kindness is unwarranted

We have to
decipher the real
from distraction

Take all
necessary action


I wrote that while reading AR Ammons, a poet whose politics, you could say, was nature. A poet who saw in “meaninglessness / our only meaning.” The word “meaning” within “meaninglessness.”


In hopelessness I see our only hope. The word “hope” within “hopelessness.” A duality at the heart of each word I put to paper. The pit and messy pulp of it. An affirmation of faith, a (re)commitment to language—the spiritual experience of it. The power of words to undermine absolute power.


Justin Marks’ books are, You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored, (Barrelhouse Books, 2014) and A Million in Prizes (New Issues, 2009). He is a co-founder of Birds, LLC, an independent poetry press, and lives in Queens, NY with his wife and their son and daughter. For more, go to


featured image via Alfred Lui on Flickr.
TIE Essay of the Month: ‘The Seventh Wish’, by Thais Vitorelli Mon, 23 Jan 2017 15:00:14 +0000 New Year’s is my absolute favorite holiday. I love to dance around all the different superstitions between families and cultures. I guess most of it has to do with the energy that predominates the last day of the year. It is the only day in which everyone is wishing for the same things as you are, even if they have different names for it.

When I was a child I used to spend New Year’s at the beach, always in the same house, always with the same people. Everyone was dressed in white, the most popular New Year’s tradition in Brazil. A wish for peace. My mom would cook a northeastern dish called Shimp Bobo, a manioc cream with lots of coconut milk and dendê palm oil and, of course, shrimp. Mom’s best friend, Silvia, used to make cod fish sided by potatoes, bell pepper, and black olives. Some of my parent’s friends liked to eat lentils on New Year’s for good fortune. Others kept pomegranate seeds inside their wallet for money.

I was in charge of the lime mousse, the easiest dessert you can assign to a child — blending together lime juice, heavy cream, and condensed milk. The trickiest part, though, was when Silvia’s son and I did our best to write the year in the mousse using lime zest. Most of the time, it didn’t turn out beautiful, but the taste was always good.

Then, we would go to the beach and watch the fireworks and hug each other after the countdown. The dads would come along with the children to the sea and watch us while we hopped over seven waves, another massive Brazilian superstition for the Réveillon, making one wish for each wave, the high point of the night. One of my wishes every year was to still be friends with my best friends.

Today, you see fewer and fewer people wearing white. My mother’s best friend spends New Year’s at the countryside. Silvia’s son now has his own son. I haven’t cooked lime mousse in over ten years. I haven’t talked to my friends from that time in a long while, either. People around me are always wishing for the same things now: losing weight, quit smoking, a new boyfriend, a good promotion.

I still spend New Year’s at the beach with my family, only a different one. But I still dress in white, and so do they. We have now a beautiful new tradition. We set little wooden sailboats, along with all the families around us, with a candle and a white rose in it. An offer to Iemanjá, the queen of the sea. Instead of the mousse, my job now is to write the letter we send along with the offer, initially addressed to Iemanjá but meant for nobody in particular. My intentions are always the same, anyway. I wish for my family to remain close, and for my friends to be happy. I wish for more love to deal with things that I hate. I wish for strength and fulfillment, and I swear to God that sometimes, a few days during the year, I am heard.

I still skip over the seven waves. Six of my wishes are small resolutions I most likely won’t even remember in six months. But my seventh resolution never fails, as I always wish for me to remember the traditions I once had, keep the traditions that still matter the most and never to stop looking for new ones. Then, we watch the fireworks while the flames of the candles float in the ocean.

Thais is a second-year Writing for Children and Young Adults student at the Creative Writing MFA program at The New School. She is a Brazilian New Yorker currently working on a Young Adult novel and still on the hunt for the best pizza in the city.

featured image via Today

Will, by Leah Umansky Sat, 31 Dec 2016 21:00:16 +0000 I listen to the dark, that souvenir of light. What is darned and holed. I listen to the darts, the ends of their lines. Sometimes, I mute my reds to mauves, it is a slight denial, but some turns are slight. Sometimes, I want to scream, but I don’t.


The way we move through this world is a placement of position and time. The wilderness of my placement. I place my tongue to my lips; I place my eyes on these words; I place my trust in this world, but who is piecing together these days? Who is pruning the hours?


I ordered take-out the other day, pushed the front door open and out I was into a cold, beautiful fall day. As I crossed the street, and noticed a family walking in front of me, past an Italian restaurant.  

The child, a small girl, was screaming, I can’t take it. I can’t take it anymore.  

She couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. She was running alone, in front of her father. He didn’t run after her, but had her in his gaze. He didn’t seem alarmed, but I was.

He was yelling behind her, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.  

I can’t take it anymore, she screamed louder, as her face became covered in tears, I want to go to that restaurant, she began to bawl.

A part of me laughed at the absurdity of a small girl screaming that she couldn’t take it.  Another part of me laughed at the absurdity of a small girl screaming that she couldn’t take it anymore.   

It is hard to take it and go on with another hour, another day. Life isn’t fair.What is or isn’t fair, is still yours. You are yours.


In the movies, you learn to be your own leading lady.  You learn to make your own.  You learn to be yourself.   Every dribble, every let-down and lug, every lie you keep at your breast, is an errand of desire. I know that everything I have created has been for me, for this life.

I can’t, but I will. I will.   

Leah Umansky’s The Barbarous Century is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing in 2018. She is also the author of the dystopian-themed Straight Away the Emptied World (Kattywompus Press, 2016), the Mad-Men inspired chapbook, Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press, 2014), and the full length, Domestic Uncertainties (BlazeVOX, 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in POETRY, Boston Review, The Journal, and Thrush Poetry Journal. She is a graduate of the MFA Program in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and teaches middle and high school English in New York City. More at

featured image via Axel and Sophie Steenberg.

‘Against Despair’, by Tess Taylor Wed, 30 Nov 2016 22:00:48 +0000 The morning after the election I made three batches of soup. And then, on the back of a piece of scratch paper, I wrote a poem.

I did all this before thinking. I did this as immediate coping. I had not slept well, had had nightmares, the kind many of us are continuing to have, maybe will keep having. And I was hung over, fuzzy headed. Like many of us, I’d been drinking too much in the weeks leading up to the vote. Like many of us, I’d been drinking through it.

In the morning, my first thought was of anger and hurt but also of needing to work and work hard. Of needing to clean house. I know myself well: I know that even though Descartes says “I think therefore I am” I myself can’t think until I build up the very base of my being. I am, yes, but I have to work to think, and I know that my body frames my thought: My mind is securely lodged in my body. My body doesn’t work unless I feed it.

That morning, even before the coffee was made, I had the broth and the sweet potatoes and the quinoa on the table. I shredded the chicken scraps. I went out in the cold air and picked our chard. I washed it. I smashed up garlic. The kids weren’t up yet. Hitting the board felt good. The board held my anger. I wanted to make the biggest meal possible out of all the odds and ends we had around the house. And I wanted the dirt on my fingers. I wanted to feel that even if the world might be collapsing inward on some angry toxic axis of hatred, there would still be people working to feed other people and that I would be one of them.

I cook because it helps me think not with my mind but with my hands, my body, my grief. I cook because you can gather the food and lay it out and prepare it and make do with what you have—water, salt, bones, a few dry potatoes, whatever survived the rain— and then you can move around the kitchen and in a few hours have something real: a meal, which can be served at a table, at which people can gather themselves. Cooking is cheap pleasure with high rewards. You can pass time making something everyone needs: food.

Cooking, when done right, is unfussy, steadying, and necessarily hopeful—it imitates and partakes in the efforts of making art but promises something immediately tangible—a meal, a gift, a jar of jam, some cake. You can make something out of even your lemon rinds. You can give what you made to someone and it will make their life better too. I love my poems, but I have to be honest: I cannot always say that of my poems.

I loved the cold feel of dirt on my hands that morning. It was sobering to be at the level of osmosis and humus and clay, of the minerals that we are made of and which will outlast us— even if we are destroying our own time on the planet. These are the minerals we will each one day become, maybe sooner than we wish. I was grateful again that the chard seemed to be going on getting bushy despite the blistering idiot who may now take power and the raw rotten stink of hate on the table of this broken America.
I was grateful to be in my body, to have a body.

I cook because I commit again to belonging to the gathering I hope for. I commit to the idea of nourishing and being nourished and coming to the big table. And I commit to being part of a chain of interdependence, one that says “because others are, I am, and because I am, I can think and work and pray.” Food reminds me that I am not alone: none of us is alone. Because none of us is only ourselves, we are our food and the planet that grew it. We are sunlight and soil. And we are not mere demographies or representations: we are real. Each of our bodies can build a house or feed a body or stage a protest or sing a song.

That morning I chopped potatoes, and I didn’t think exactly. But what I think my body was trying to craft even then was not just soup but hope: hope not only that we all be fed, but also that the hands building the meal might also build a poem, a room, more justice. My hands were telling me as I chopped not to despair. I believe in food. I believe in art. I heard my knife hitting and hitting the board.

unnamed Tess Taylor’s chapbook, The Misremembered World, was selected by Eavan Boland for the Poetry Society of America’s inaugural chapbook fellowship. The San Francisco Chronicle called her first book, The Forage House, “stunning” and it was a finalist for the Believer Poetry Award. Her second book is Work & Days, which Stephen Burt called “our moment’s Georgic.” Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Boston Review, Harvard Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and other places. Taylor chairs the poetry committee of the National Book Critics Circle, is currently the on-air poetry reviewer for NPR’s All Things Considered, and was most recently visiting professor of English and creative writing at Whittier College. Taylor has received awards and fellowships from MacDowell, Headlands Center for the Arts, and The International Center for Jefferson Studies. Taylor recently was awarded a Fulbright US Scholar Award to study and lecture at Queen’s University Belfast, in Northern Ireland, for six months in 2017.

featured image via Marjan Lazarevski on Flickr.