Dear ones, the table is rich
with the foods of this season. Exotic tarts
and holiday confections crowd the board
like entries at a fair. The half-eaten quiches and
moussakas fill the fridge, pile up
in the freezer, safe in ziplock baggies
against some day. Hard at play
in cooking-school, our friends bear shy first pies
and spice of a hundred lands to our door,
ring the bell, steal away. Gary's elegant borscht
takes the cake, I think, but how
can I tell, when everything tastes
of ashes and love?

The crab that gnawed at my boy's rib
so long is caught, carved out, fat form served up
to the microscope in serial sections
sauced with stains, still clutching the bone.
Not a claw left, they say -- only its spawn,
too many, too small, too quick to eat
and grow, lodged where? Now they scour
all his vessels with harsh brushes
from within, with herbal corrosives
more precious than saffron, more potent than acid
to make him pure. All day he heaves
like one too young to sail this violent sea, all night
his stomach spasms to void
what never entered there while he begs
it to stop and the teddybear minus one eye,
the game-hen stuffed with wild rice, sweet Leonard
the Lion and the pineapple turnover cake
wait by his bed as I offer him water,
hoping to feed his marrow tomorrow
as more wrapped pans arrive at our door.

We brought fudge to the surgeon,
but that was a token: the altars
are gone, and the groves, no one knows
now where to burn the doubled fat
or to whom, or how, no one knows,
we have only each other. Still chicken soup
runs deep: this tide of nourishment,
this cornucopia of community
inverted at our door is offered
not for our bodies and hearts alone
but in ancestral sacrifice
deep-sprung, overflowing, helpless,
for us all, to cry "Take this,
not that!” with no place to put it
but in the fridge to be warmed up
when it helps, no priests to spell us
in taking it all through the fire, the gut,
and to compost in proper ritual
that all be fulfilled. I swear, sometimes
we're up till three, dragging ourselves to the kitchen
for another dutiful raid, ashes and love,
enough to share.

If your stomach don't tell you the timepiece will:
stoke that furnace, swallow that pill.
Label the plates from each woman and man,
it helps
to give back what you can.

4 January 1981