Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Rhyme of the Ancient Marinade


How two cooks, having first planned and prepared their salads and buns, their veggies in chafing dishes; having plated desserts and prepped chicken breasts; how an ancient marinade recipe working on that meat since the day before a wedding reception, ready now for cooking, for serving after prayers, after salads, after buns: what happens when some Dutch Ovens go missing.

Part 1

It is an ancient marinade
which "We braise at three to six,"
says the Banquet Cook with glittering eye
now plating aperitifs.

The Bride and Groom have just arrived;
as have their next of kin;
while over by the open bar
the drinkers raise a din.

The cook holds forth a skinny hand:
"Dutch Ovens." he commands.
I answer "Why not broil the lot ?"
"My pots." he countermands.

He holds me with his glittering eye,
the Wedding Guests can hear.
He whispers like a maniac
"the marinade's time is near !"

A reception line is forming,
so introductions can be made,
but then our banquet cook moans out
"O ancient marinade !"

The shelf is cleared, the cupboard too,
quickly do we look,
below the board, below the knives,
below the robot coupe.

The chef comes up from down the stairs;
out of the depths comes he,
and he sees right and he looks left
and down again goes he.

Faster and faster we search all nooks
but find no iron pots.
Some Wedding Guests are getting drunk;
out in the parking lots.

The bride is radiant in the hall,
white as a rose is she,
the groom is standing by the doors
happy as a man can be.

The Banquet Cook's apoplectic:
"Why is this happening to me ?
You always do this to me Lord !
Do you think this is funny ?"

The Wedding Guests devoured
all the crudities and garnish.
But now our manic cook must choose
how these pullets will be furnaced.

Roast pans are filled, ovens opened -
convection ovens - already on high,
stuffed with birds and their wings,
pans on ev'ry shelf, side by side.

With blasting heat and dripping sweat
he swears and yells and curses:
Reception Guests recoil in fear;
but then cook shows his nerve;
he seals the ovens, roars,
commands all salads served.

And so go plates of garden greens,
topped with shredded carrot,
with cucumbers and tomatoes
as red as seals of merit.

And then the buns, just oven warmed
go out in wicker baskets,
the cook he growls,
he roars and howls;
he makes some wicked rackets.

At length there comes our Albatross,
our Food and Beverage rep,
who in his pious way commands:
"For the love of Christ cook, shut up."

They eat their greens, they eat their buns,
as 'round and 'round he goes.
he breaks the ice with gentle wit,
restoring apropos.

A good report is heard
where e'er the manager parlays,
he answers all who ask "What next ?"
with " marinade poulet."

With jest and joke,
with wit and wisdom
he soothes all diner troubles,
while we watch through oven windows
juices forming bubbles.

God save thee ancient marinade
from the end to which you're fated:
for management decrees: "Too slow,
we'll have to microwave it."

Part 2

Cook eyes the meat thermometers;
onto guages fixes;
chicken warms and browns,
but the ovens have been nix'd.

Our timing blown from having searched,
we have no food to serve,
no oven now can save this meal;
we have to show some verve.

We do the hellish thing,
pray all will be okay;
that microwaves will save our meat,
save these too slowly roasting hens.
Food in, time set, cook mutters
"chicken a la micro-radiance".

No dim sum course, no mushroom caps,
no diversions left,
particle waves will heat our mains;
and then he'll brown them all with flames.
"Nuke the bastards, nuke the lot !"
he stokes the grill as if half-sane.

The salad plates come back on trays
the porters bring them in,
they scrape and stack and pile them up,
the mains must soon begin.

The timers ring, the birds are nuked;
but cook's as mad as mad can be.
I should speak to him but don't: he looks
too grim across from me.

He works in hot and copper rage:
" Microwaved !" he bellows.
Ignoring that, I steam my veg;
then some mashed potatoes.

Pan after pan, I continue;
I work without pause or waste,
the picture of efficiency,
thermalizing haste.

"Waiter, waiter !" some call out
beyond the kitchen sink.
"Waiter, waiter !" they call again
(they've all had lots to drink.)

The very room is tight, O Christ,
let them keep their seats;
but then a woman gains her legs
upon her drunken feet.

About, about she reels and shouts
before the father of the bride
whispers to our banquet manager
"my wife is mortified."

The Cook's oblivious,
intent upon inflammables.
"Nine chickens more !" he cries,
"Then plate your vegetables !"

Every tongue, though none in drought
is silenced to the roots:
the drunken girl destroyed a stack
of crystal champagne flutes.

Ah well-a-day ! What unkind looks
she gets from old and young !
Our food and bev'rage overseer
is just about undone.

Part 3

Then seconds pass, then sev'ral more:
they watch the clean-up; drink their wine.

We're almost ready, almost set.
How glazed their watching eyes.
But then I finish steaming veg.
Cook laughs, yet then he sighs:

the grill's free of chickens;
he's poised within its' haze;
marinade char across his cheek,
like warpaint on his face.

With tongs and forks and knives he works,
he plates and perseveres:
it's as if ancestral spirits
hold him to the course he steers.

With throats well slaked, their hunger holds,
we do not slack or slow:
mashed potatoes, veggies, chicken;
arrayed, gravyed, garnished, then trayed,
Cook orders all to "Go."

With throats well slaked, their hunger breaks;
agape they hear his "Go's".
"Go, go, go." until all have food;
not all at once can all tuck in
but all are feasting soon.

"There ! " I cry, "We did it."
All is well, and done.
Without a stop, without a pause
we've fed everyone.

The bride and groom are both well pleased;
the wait was worth their while,
for neither could be happier,
not with our food, their love or life:
they clean their plates and ask for more,
both husband and new wife.

But then - O then - cook rushes out
(O Heaven's mother send us grace,)
for I see now his grief and purpose,
illuminated craze.

"Alas" (my heart beats loud)
the man is running to confess.
Alas as well, the boss just left
and cannot intercept.

But as I watch with growing dread,
there comes the unexpected:
the woman drunk from earlier
is on the dance floor, nude;
nothing about her girlier.

Her lips are red, her looks are free,
her locks are yellow as gold;
her skin as white as bridal gowns
but blind by wine she's out to lunch:
my blood runs hot and cold.

A naked hulk joins her stripping;
begins to dance and shout:
"The food is done. Come on, let's dance !"
and then he spins about.

The cook's eyes blink, he stops his charge,
moves some steps towards him:
with far-heard whisper, 'cross the room,
curses, then ignores 'em.

They turn and they look back at him -
as if he is a glass
of wine they might just tip.
Their gaze is dim, and thick their breath,
the father of the bride stands up,
his composure threatened,
" You're both cut off ! Hear me ?
Put your clothes back on; get dressed ! Now !"
And then he sits down miffed.

The mind-fogged guests both heard;
they go and dress themselves:
they turn their faces from their hosts,
for each now seems unwell.

Four times fifty hands and legs
(Cross and uncross 'round the room.)
Music stops, the reception waits,
although it soon resumes.

Their clothes upon their bodies now,
their nakedness concealed,
everything is back in place
with nothing more revealed.

Part 4

"I fear my ancient marinade,"
(the floor is now the cook's
and he continues on to say)
"should never have been nuked."

"I fear glittering microwaves
have neutralized their taste,
at worst they should have been roasted,
when my Dutch ovens were misplaced."

"Alas, alas, I say alas,"
(alas, he keeps confessing)
"Let no saint among you now say
this meal was ever a blessing."

Some attempt to reassure him:
declare they loved his food:
but he answers: "The one who taught me
would never have been fooled."

I look upon cook standing there,
three men mock him as they sway,
he stands as if on rotting decks
with truths that he must say.

I look to heaven, and try to pray,
yet before my prayers can shape
a wicked whisper comes from him;
my heart goes dry as fate.

He picks his words, says to the three,
"You think it's funny to care so much,
to have hopes that won't leave you be,
so mock if you three must but..."
"We must, we must" laugh the three.

A cold sweat starts from his limbs,
then shakes and groans come too:
the look with which he transfixes,
no one can now undo.

A kitchen's curse can drag to hell
a spirit from on high,
but O Guests, more horrible yet
is the curse in that man's eye:
"For seven days and seven nights
you will each pray to die."

The mocking men stop in their tracks,
the bar crowd turns to him:
quickly all have fallen still;
the bride's mom drops her gin.

Cook continues his prophecy,
like April showers rain,
"You will neither rest nor slumber
but rue ev'ry belly ache:
loss of guts will make you humbler."

Beyond a shadow of a doubt
he stares like they are snakes
who eat in bins of fast food chains,
craving all kinds of devilish fare
warmed up by microwaves.

Within the shadows of his doubt
I watch his pride afire,
snakes, glossy green and every one
coiling about his ev'ry track,
zap-fried by his blazing ire.

"O happy cooking days," he states,
"when one finds joy in food:
for then springs love for cuisine arts,
inspiring more than scavenging:
O kind saints how you ward us when
folk seek more than mere ravening."

The self same moment that I pray
that from this stress we'd 'scape
the Food and Beverage manager
arrives with dessert plates.

Part 5

O sweets ! They are such forgiving things,
beloved from pole to pole.
Pastry chefs all praise be given,
for creating simple sweets from Heaven,
becalming ev'ry soul.

The simple pleasures of the board
that have so long been treats,
are now among our guests infilling
each to each with peace.

I move, and do not feel my limbs:
I am so light - almost -
I think I've fallen into sleep,
become a blessed ghost.

But soon I hear a moaning sound,
from whence I can't quite sense,
yet then its' source breaks through my daze,
causing my nerves to tense.

The banquet cook bursts into life,
and a hundred faces watch him.
To and fro he races 'bout the hall
waving his ancient recipe
as if it somehow haunts him.

But no more words are uttered;
his racings ebb like tides:
then sorrow over his behaviour
leads him to apologize.

The thick depths of his grief are cleft,
but not those of the Bride's Mom's:
she lifts her glass to cook but says,
"You three, any more and out !
I expect more of my sons."

Reprieved by kindness, cook
returns to the kitchen,
cleans the grill top and microwaves;
puts away the chicken.

He groans, he stirs, he nearly leaves;
he stays, yet never lifts his eyes:
he seems to drift, as if in dreams,
ones I'm not certain he survives.

The dishpit whirs, the night wears on,
yet he utters no more words,
the marinade was his life's work,
it was his pride and joy,
and those he thinks are fast food fools
ignored him like a boy.

An ally of the bride's mother
stands by me, he by me stands,
but he doesn't seem to grasp that fact,
lost as he is in damns.

"I ruined thee, ancient Marinade;
embarassed Wedding Guests.
T'was not for microwaves designed.
And yet where are my pots, O serpent.
O why did I lose my mind ?"

And then he groans, drops his arms,
each breath it seems his last,
low sounds rise slowly from his mouth
and from his body pass.

'Round and around fly all his thoughts,
back to him dart again,
like too much pepper in a sauce,
he mixes griefs with pains.

Sometimes I hear reception sounds,
laughters, chats and musics;
sometimes I hear the dishwasher:
the clatter of plates and saucers,
sometimes cacophonics.
And then I hear songs, instruments,
I sometimes hear soft ballads,
other times a line dance tune
as I put away the salads.

We clean, and yet the night goes on.
The aftermath of a meal
descends, then quiets, lulls.
We feed the serving staff,
who then disappear to eat
out the back door they pass.

Silence spreads as we clean;
no single word is breathed
from the banquet cook who stands
as if his soul's surceased.

Under us now, on the floor below,
down where the stores and walk-ins are,
chef's no longer at his desk,
he's already locked his office.
He rarely says goodbye at night,
more often, just seems to vanish.

The banquet cook is almost done,
he's starting to make me nervous;
for I still have the line to run:
porters might order room service.
So I study the cook,
a man I thought impervious.

Then like a pawing horse let go,
he makes a sudden pounce,
he flings himself into my face
with something to announce.

How long he holds me by my coat,
I cannot really tell;
I try to shake him off of me,
but then he cries out from his depths;
"I will never again be well !"

"I embarassed us, I should quit.
O by him who died on the cross,
my temper is my curse;
my career is probably lost."

The spirit of the cook I know
verges now on fracture:
he loves his work, he loves to feed
but doesn't love t' manufacture.

His agony is honest.
For ancient recipes
all have their codes of honour:
you cannot cook; then make enemies.

Part 6

Cook's Voice
"So tell me line cook, speak the truth,
you dislike short orders,
why do you cook fast food, I know
you think it's onerous ?"

My Voice
"I sometimes think I'm a wage slave,
though it's honest occupation.
If I quit where would I go ?
I live in a fast food nation ...

The problem with all line cook jobs,
is, as line work, it's poorly paid;
compared to factory wages
I'd earn more making microwaves."

Cook's Voice
"So why frustrate yourself this way
if manufacturing pays more ?"

My Voice
"I would die in a factory;
I would be bored to tears."

(And then I turn to his own fears.)
"The Bride's mother was glad you spoke;
it seems like ev'ryone I know
but only some think you're a joke."

"Something was going on with them,
they came drinking alot,
the three brothers arrived angry,
you're one spice in a thick'ning plot."

"Besides, they all loved the chicken.
It could have been disastrous,
but wasn't, because in the end
it's taste that masters us."

"The microwave is just a tool,
used for a specific purpose;
but when you grilled the flare back in,
they all thought it was perfect."

The banquet cook then walks away,
reviews the dinner now over:
he's lost his temper more than once,
but twelve Dutch ovens, never.

Like one that on a lonesome road
has walked in fear and dread
but having faced himself walks on,
looking inward never more,
so cook shrugs off this night,
signs out, goes home to bed.

Soon there exhales a sigh from me,
though not a move or word I've said,
for I've not yet eaten
and want to taste cook's marinade.

It raises my hair, it flames my cheeks,
like meadow-gales of spring -
it mingles strangely in my buds
yet feels like welcoming.

O gladly, gladly I devour
all the chicken of the hour;
slowly, slowly will I savour
all the spice with all its flavour.

O dream of joy, this is indeed
the lighthouse of his craft,
this is his height, this is his church;
this is my peer's last laugh.

Drifting over many a taste,
I sob and then I pray,
"O let me be awake, my God.
Or let me sleep always."

The chicken breast is as tender
as frozen meat can be;
but O spices of his secret,
you grow new life in me !

The night shines bright, the kitchen too,
the flavours course their ways;
yet even as my shift winds down,
that gracious taste remains.

My blood is alight with living food,
still rising from my palate,
full of art and craftsmanship
I almost can't relate it.

A little later from that hour
its forces still endure,
like memories of paradise:
O Christ, what tastes they were.

Each thing I have cooked on this line:
chicken fingers with fries,
club houses, burgers and wings;
for all of it I cry.

O seraph bands, please wave your hands,
and let endurance flow,
save me from this thankless task,
and from another nacho.

O seraph bands, please wave your hands !
But of course they don't, or can't,
no salvation from this job arrives,
so I quit this unhappy rant.

But soon I hear the crash of dishes,
hear the porters cheering,
my thoughts return from all my wants,
watch broken cup clearing.

The Steward and his merry crew
I hear them laughing loud.
O Lord of Heaven t'is a joy
that comes without a cloud.

And then a Wedding Guest requests,
some marmite if we have it,
he asks for English yeast:
a large dollop on toast.
I prepare it for him,
for I am aft' all his host.

Part 7

The marmite crowd loves its' taste;
although it's odd to me.
They love yeasty virtues,
food extractions from their youths,
fondly grown 'old country'.

They'll eat it fore dawn, noon or eve -
some with cukes for lunch;
a flavour wholly lost on me:
it tastes like old oak stumps.

The waitresses near, I hear them talk,
"Why was the cook so strange ?
"What difference did it really make
that he couldn't roast the chicken ?"

" He's a jerk if you ask me.
He's creepy and he's weird.
As if anyone out there cares
about his bloody marinade,
They should fire him for losing it.
Cooks and their hissy fits !."

Skeletons in brown uniforms
they look at me and laugh.
When the gravy train is heavy
with those that feed like owls and wolves
how is a cook to act ?

"My God, you two are stupid."
The dishdog throws a towel.
"You don't know anything 'bout food."
he adds as he stacks bowls.

A thought comes to me standing there,
(I neither speak nor moan)
the thought is what I'd serve myself
if this kitchen was - by me - owned.

Under tasks my thoughts work on, they
wrestle with all they raise,
they reach full, burst their forms
like bubbles in parades.

Shunned by reality and by fact,
I have to give it up:
most people eat as if attempting
suicide by food.
As a cook, I'm accessory
To their declining good.
Upon that realization
I cut the wedding cake;
keep my attention there
and subdivisions make.

I cut three slabs - fifty apiece,
clean the knife with ev'ry slicing.
The smell of marmite up my nose,
countered by the scent of icing.

I take the slabs into the hall,
the party nearing full swing,
laughter abounds, as does the dance:
most of the men are still sitting;
Achy Breaky Heart plays on,
women partner women.

But then I leave the cakes,
winding back through the guests,
marmite smell masked by spilt beer stink
rising from the carpets.

Drunks are sleeping in their seats
while the soberly quiet chat,
all about the room are traces
of the wedding banquet.

There are faces infused
with the wonders of life.
So much hope abounding
for one new husband; one new wife.

But now my shift is over,
my duty done for this one night,
yet still my thoughts do not find rest,
my prayers don't find flight.

I leave like night - unseen - going,
'cept by the dishwasher,
for I know that last time he worked
he left the Dutch ovens unseasoned,
rusting, hid them in his locker.

He didn't know tonight's menu;
hasn't re-seasoned them yet.
Saying nothing, I leave,
knowing that tomorrow
the banquet cook will think
his pots had been borrowed.

O Wedding Guest this soul has been
starved upon this cook's line,
so lonely t'was, that God himself
placed no orders this time.

O sweeter than the marriage feast,
T'is sweeter far to me,
to ride my bicycle through quads
of universities.

To ride a bicycle through dark
and to the students nod,
while each of them to futures wend:
the men, the girls, the loving friends;
the youths and drunken sods.

Farewell, farewell ! But this I tell
to thee, thou Wedding Guest !
He that prays well, lives well,
whether man, bird or beast.

So let them be blest, who love best
food of life, whether small or great:
for the God of Love gave us taste
for us to appreciate grace.

A Marinade, whose time is ripe,
whose age is cured with spice,
is like a Wedding reception
remembered all your life.

Live like you are now aware
of every sense you border;
gladder and still wiser grow
(and try to avoid short order.)