Elaine Magarrell

The Madness of Chefs    


Let us now praise the madness of chefs, their exaltation

in searing heat, their need for murder, desire for stress.

How they perform with the delicate, even sublime, fingering

blood and blossom and bean. How they scatter

the sacred herbs, distill the sea to fish and salt, the sky above

to yeast and bird. They conserve the fresh killed rabbit

salvaging even its scream in their night, preserving its offal

and tripe. They cooked the last supper for Jesus,

made cakes for Marie Antoinette, fixed a final meal

for the murderer, fed Caesar and Cleo in bed. They plate

foie gras for the eyes but hope for it to be laid waste. Awash

with wine. The taste. The taste. Heavenly vapors

invade the nose. What a long way they've come since they first

scorched meat. Since the caveman fed his spitting fire.

And as fuel is shoved into the gut what a catharsis,

belly at peace, what a fullness of spirit and at the end,

a busy bowel dealing spotlessly with excrement. Let us

all praise the madness of chefs. Come to the table

beggars and queens. They're at it again.


The Peach of Immortality


Born in winter under the tree

and abandoned to live, I was startled

by blossoms. Out of the box

of sky, petals fell like flakes

of cloud. Without any warning


hard fruits formed. I sat

in the shade and leaned in idleness

against the day. Vines sprang up

to fasten me, more powerful

even than gravity. As if


it were meant, the perfect sphere

of always fell in the hammock

of my lap without a bruise on it.

I caressed its fuzz with my thumb.

One bite, I knew, and I would live


three thousand years. If I ate

the whole peach I would live

forever. But I wasn't hungry.

I didn't love you yet.





If you could see me picnicking one last time

at the crumbling table beside the park tower

you would know how I need the flavor of olives

and rough grained bread against the acid

of wine and Jack enjoying his peanut butter,

tasting the last of the chocolate-

covered ginger while the snow geese

dip their heads into the shallow water

and the fiery sun sets at five o'clock. You would

understand why I've no religion

but the ruddy duck and great white heron.

You'd see us divide the anjou pear in its perfect

ripeness and feel the chill air settle

into the hollow, watch as we zip

our sweaters with thousands of shore birds

in a quivering shifting cloud overhead

going nowhere in particular.

After an hour or two, we would pack up

the picnic with only the pear core

and a small plastic box left over.

If you could see me picnicking

one last time where the plumed reeds

sway beside the park tower

you would know everything I know.



Five Mortalities


Five mortalities sat in the dining room feasting

on shrimp. Five deaths to be finishing off

the bread pudding and exchanging photographs.

None made any noise when the hot coffee was spilled.

Only when goodnights were said did a little chill

escape the first, scrape a shoulder and stir her hair so


that she brushed it back with her hand

in a practiced gesture we would recall.

Living is like that, full of habit. We hoard

time for what needs thought. For example,

Where did I put the pickles?" "Does this dress

make me look ridiculous?" Try to imagine it. Five

mortalities living as though there is no tomorrow

and a month later every one of them still alive.



Surprise Is Dying


I see my granddaughter caught

in a photograph, happy in a blue dress.

Blue. I could have guessed.

The moon rises and sets, rises and sets.

Look in my eyes. Surprise is dying.


Although I know the words to a hundred

songs, they're not today's songs.

Not tomorrow's. Singing has come

and gone. Running has slowed

to a walk. Laughter, dimmed to a smile.


Thinking, also, says pardon me

but I am sick of this. Reason

looks out at the world like a slow

grey fish in a small bowl. Books

prefer to lie closed on the shelves.


Old thoughts scratch behind my ear:

water the orange tree, make

the bed, where are my slippers?

Eating, though, continues to give

satisfaction. A date-nut cake. A rice


dish with curry and cinnamon.

Chicken baked in a very hot oven.

I taste a second helping of crisp skin,

dip a biscuit in my wine. And after

eating, I sleep. Sleep. I never tire of it.

One Day Soon


The way each morning

you rise first, and set

my orange juice out.


The way I find the crumbs

you dropped. I dust

the bentwood rocker, scrub

your tracked in dirt.


The way you do the laundry

careful not to shrink

my shirts and run the stairs

to hang them up.


How, at the grocery, I avoid

tough crusts, remembering

your teeth.


The way you dig the garden

bending down for me.

The way you clip the ivy.

Carry in the garbage cans.


The way I cut your hair

around the ears where

it grows thick and shave

your neck being careful

of the mole.

Elaine Magarrell, teacher, artist, and writer, was raised in Clinton, Iowa.  She is the author of two prize-winning books of poetry: On Hogback Mountain (Washington Writers' Prize) and Blameless Lives (The Word Works Prize).  Her work has appeared in Passager, Poet Lore, The Hollins Critic, and elsewhere.  One of her poems is included in Bedford Introduction to Literature and Bedford Introduction to Poetry.  Honors include numerous grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and a fellowship to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  She lives in Washington, DC.  



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