Friday, October 24, 2014

Three Poems About Food

The other day I received an email saying that my submission had been accepted as part of a composite multi-poem piece of music commissioned by the Haarlem Studentenkoor. I remember writing the poem before I left Gouda, having drunk all the alcohol out of the cupboards and cold sober contemplating the big bang Creation out of Chaos, a choice topic. I wrote about night.  I think I did, but more so I remember sitting in my old dining room trying to distract myself.  Who knows what the musical composition will be at the end of the day, but having written three more poems this week sitting in the dark at my office listening to the electricians battle with the electrical meter at 7 am, I figured I might as well post them in celebration of poetry. Of course, I composed all three of them hours beforehand giggling to myself in the shadows waiting for the alarm to sound, worried about oversleeping.
My Peanut Butter
When I fled the house
I took with me the jar of peanut butter
And the ten Euros I possessed.
I thought
It would get me through some
Tough times, like the vagabond
Sitting on the steps behind Magna Plaza,
A slice of floppy brown bread
In his hand, swiping the inside of the jar
With great consideration,
A tinge of honest repulsion and a bit of awe.
Perhaps the peanut butter was mine
After all, even though you paid for the jar,
I placed the item in the trolley, to make
Sure we had emergency food in the larder.
Moving from place to place with the jar,
From the Burgermeester Rendorpstraat
To the Kloveniersburgwal and finally standing
Making some sandwiches purposely with knife in hand
In the Spuistraat, ready to eat them waiting for the tram
Full of the aimless tourists behind the Dam, I gazed into
The dirty brown jar, still half filled with goo, astonished
At the alternative nutrition that had rotated my way,
Adequate and filling, like those cans of beans in tomato sauce.
The peanut butter looked more relaxed, offering itself up
For the easier times, a rare minute to hour not hour to hard day,
And would probably last past Christmas. 
Looking down into the jar with consideration
I felt a slab of honest repulsion and a smidgen of awe
Adhering within my heart, folding over on itself.
Single Disrespect to Sugar and Cream
Once again I stand resolutely before the freezer section
At the supermarket inspecting the ice-cream.
Weeks earlier I purchased a ginger scoop on the Rozengracht,
Recommended, barely rendered myself to swallow the swank smudge,
I finished my purchase with wanton distaste, frowning in the sunshine.
Half puddle, the cold ball on the Herenstraat revolted me.
How is it I suspect my heart pleads for ice-cream when my stomach holds
Appeal to communist taste buds? Eyes down in the blue basket hanging
From my elbow, I check my groceries again. Just to be sure.
Baiting time before another unwise decision.
The plain 46 cent beaker of basic yoghurt. Mildly interesting.
The pink grapefruit, on sale, four in a net. More appetizing.
The thick water injected slab of turkey breast. I chose it
Because someone recently mentioned they’d eaten turkey.
Cote D’Or. Rarely seen in the country. Nougat flavoured France.
It now lays, alone, unloved in my freezer, chipped at by two teaspoon nibbles.
I think about throwing it out, note keeping it perhaps
Just to temper my unreasonable urges for unhappy bourgeois ice-cream.
But more practically, I stand in front of my near empty mini freezer,
Weighing up why I am attracted to hardened sugar and cream with all due disrespect,
Being only pleased with myself after all to discern the A label:
This freezer is functional after enduring
Months of neurotic qualms concerning  
The potential inadequacies of small freezer life.
LookIt Little FurrBall
Your brown eyes,
Making eyes at me
Pleading for another
Piece of raw broccoli
Express great disappointment
Every time you realize that
This time, once again,
You are not attending
To my personal travels
With your short sturdy legs
Wondrously distracted by
The smashed bit of French Fry
Under the bench at the train station.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ring My Bell

At first I thought that a new church had set up shop in my Amsterdam neighborhood. The tune was different.  The idea that suddenly a church tower had been erected nearby is, of course, ludicrous.  I just spelled the rapper’s name right there and became completely confused at the fact that I actually quasi believed in the alternate spelling of the adjective. It was the capital L in the spell check that confirmed my suspicions.  Anyway, where have I been and where was I? Bell tunes. It finally occurred to me, walking to yoga one night, that the Westerkerk bells had been rewired to a different set of chimes.  The odd thing was that I recognized one rendition of the tune immediately and became quite confused. What was it doing hanging out at the Westerkerk on the hour? It wasn’t Dutch at all. Was this a case of plagiarism?

Years ago, when I was a teenager, my mother decided to join a church.  She hadn’t been a church goer in years, that is years well before my birth when it was part of her family obligation and duties. She avoided the Lutherans this time and chose the posh Episcopalian Church in our area.  St. Albans.  Of course I then dutifully went with her on this family bonding moment; my father stayed at home alone without even a sliver of Christ. It turns out I liked the music at church.  Since being introduced to the 1941 red bound collection I’ve grown inordinately fond of hymns.  The Reverend D. was the church pastor at that time, a tall, vague and childlike figure married to money. A lot of money. In fact, his wife was a socialite. A well-known socialite. She was tall and horsey and wore designer togs and heaps of gold jewelry. She looked like she’d whack plebs with a polo stick from down the slope of her long nose and long legs. She and her Chanel suit didn’t come to church often, and most of us developed a tendency to avoid her strings of startlingly devoid of compassion conversations. Father D. and Mrs. D. had obviously a way of having separate lives and still like each other very much.

Father D.’s favorite hymn was I Sing a Song to the Saints of God. One verse includes this refrain:


       And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
        And one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
        And there's not any reason, no, not the least,
        Why I shouldn't be one too.


This was my favorite part. Perversely alert and aware that it was, well, taking the mickey out of the glory of Christianity. (Hey, I grew up in Berkeley where hedonism was rampant.) We sang this hymn a lot at church, every chance he got Father D. would include it in the service. At times I wondered about his intentions. The words to the song were written by a woman named Lesbia Scott. What a name. The music by John Hopkins. Maybe Mr. Hopkins lifted it from a quaint old Dutch folk tune.


However, suspiciously enough on the half hour the Westerkerk is demonstrating a snippet of Tis a Gift to be Simple. The last time I heard that in the Netherlands was when HRH Princess Christina sang it at her father’s funeral. Was there something going on with the royal family?


Never mind, lastly a mere two days ago a crowd gathered below my office on the Westermarkt. A cute van, a pimped DJ mobile, was ready to perform a duo with the carillon in the Westerkerk. “You can ring my beelllll, ring my bell!” the two call and response sang to each other while people danced in the street.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Green Bits in Amsterdam

Green bits, much to my dog’s dismay, are not found nearby where I live in Amsterdam.  She always needs a little green patch or some true grit dirt bit to use for her daily constitution. At first I located a grove of mature trees that had just been ensconced in brand new raised flower beds securely blocked in by curbs of virgin grey cement so light and unstained like a fall sweater just out of the shop nestled in the exclusive bag with silver lettering. But then tender young plants were lodged in the black earth and I felt it really wouldn’t do to have my dog stomp all over them or continue to mar the beauty of the pristine cement. I happily spied a side of a canal used by houseboats which had obviously been cordoned off a while ago as a result of needing to shore up the side of the canal in front of the moored boats. The area now features little clumps of weeds growing up through the pavement. My dog and I hang around this particular block twice a day.  A few red light establishments have a view of this overgrown patch. I’ve noticed that when I am in the company of a man, the prostitutes will gently grind their hips at him. Otherwise they don’t grind their hips and focus their dewy eyes on me.  Not that I mind being ignored; my upstairs neighbor and fellow dog owner is not susceptible to feminine charms – he has a few of his own with those big blue eyes and Tintin hairdo.

My dog has attracted the attention of a large orange tabby who stalks her from behind while she’s sniffing around trying to decide her spot.  It’s never nice to be snuck up upon when doing your business. The cat even followed us down the block, leaping from along the stairways on the grand canal houses to get a better view of my dog’s swaying back as we made our way to the trees, a desperate measure for both of us.  The evening didn’t seem to be working.

We often walk along the canals and small streets found parallel to the canals. We often walk up our street early in the morning when the prostitutes’ rooms are being cleaned, the tiles being swiped down with antiseptic, the front steps receiving multiple buckets of soapy water. “Good morning!” the tattooed man says to me, eyes in back in his middle aged head, as he inspects his handiwork the room, a mix between a butcher’s shop and a toilet with patches of flocked Gay 90’s wallpaper here and there. The blue plastic cover, as a new born weak and defenseless, wrinkled and wailing on the stripped matrass, the bar chairs without towels on them, devoid of bikini bums.

Some of the buildings are remarkable on my street. It’s hard to notice them though at times round the bustle and hustle, rough 17th century warehouses, the bricks painted black, the shutters red, the ceiling beams white. Pure Amsterdam. Then, to my astonishment, a sign saying that Hans Brinker, the boy that stuck his thumb in a dyke, was born in That House in 1799 Right in This Alley Street, one that has many small lanterns hanging on the outside walls, all with red light bulbs.  A propos, I think, more fantasy, fingers and birth canals.