Lucia Galloway

The Garlic Peelers


            for John, my partner of half a century


I'm peeling supper's garlic while you watch

TV—a  documentary on our menacing Sun:

the hellish solar corona and the ferocious violence

of run-away fire balls catapulted from sun's surface.

The narrator's voice lilts like

a police captain’s drilling rookies,

pedantic, seductive, inflected with sucrose and doom,

its paternalistic notes implying we'd be dense as sheep

failing to sense, let alone appreciate our danger.


It was our ancient voice teacher

who chastened us with garlic, raw

and chopped in tiny dice, piled on a spoon and drenched

in drops of water—Swallow this. 

And, eyes already burning, I would wash it down,

the water a desperate trickle against

the stovepipe heat in my esophagus. 

Her medicine for anyone who'd sing.

*   *   *   *

Something formal in garlic, something chaste as sleep.

Bits of papery skin litter my kitchen at the cabinet's sill,

like the detritus of moth wings flaked

on the floor beneath an attic light bulb.


The psalter of their complaints, cadences of their litany

like sloughed off injustice, their syntax eroded echoes,

fragments of text like code.


You're playing Schubert's Impromptus on the piano

while I stand readying bulbs, roughing off the tissue-paper skin,

smashing each clove with the flat

of a knife, loosening with my fingernail

each shiny casing from the clove's mass.  Closeted in my task,

I've summoned the intent to sweep away pride's carapace,

resentment's worn-out wing.


*   *   *   *


In your midnight kitchen, you heap

peeled cloves in the scale's basket—

a dozen or more, like giant water pearls, 

a reverence in your handling like Aladdin's, rubbing

the quiescent lamp.  And when you've got the genie,

a kind of servant-alchemist,

you're ready to try a transmutation, chemical and aromatic,

of garlic pulverized with an emollient oil,

spiked with vinegar and mustard,

and bound with an egg. 


What comes of it?  Aioli,

that pungent custard gold.


We've read that alliinase, an enzyme, must interact

with the compound alliin:  these two held chaste

in separate cells.  But when a clove's cell walls are breached,

such as occurs with crushing, chopping, slicing. biting;

then (and only then) springs forth

the substance allicin, essence of garlic's secret

and its chief allure.  It is a violence I can sing:

Aladdin, alchemist, allicin, aioli—this flutter of

exotic moths in the night kitchen

around your votive light.


                        *   *   *   *


Naked cloves I've just released

from their jackets clump on the cutting board,

each a dormant lantern, its facets retaining a slight heat  

from my hand.


Look now:  fire-fly in a vial,

in a teardrop. 

Light, but no fire.


Whenever two cloves are called for,

remember to use at least four.  Four is a family,

or five, roasted in a small clay casserole.  Or chopped

and sautéed live in olive oil until they're straw-hued, golden

and no longer pale.  In these we anticipate

the sweetness of cashew; the brio

of fresh coffee, its hint of bitterness like filbert,

like walnut.  There will be fine sensations,

and tears in the house by night.



My palms are open, cupped and fleshy,

moist—the petals of peonies that fall away

from the tight bud at their center.


My soul, an iris still sheathed in its bud,

a knot that angles the stem slightly

where it is freed from blade-like leaves.


Flowering is wildness even in the garden. 

The mute cacophony of hollyhocks and freesia—

their riot of trumpets and peal of bells


chiming for something else entirely.

Lucia Galloway is the author of a full-length poetry collection, Venus and Other Losses (Plain View, 2010) and a chapbook, Playing Outside (Finishing Line, 2005).  Her poems appear in print and electronic journals, including The Comstock Review, The Sow's Ear, Innisfree, Inlandia, Poemeleon, Untitled Country Review, The Dirty Napkin, The Prose Poem Project, qarrtsiluni, and Stirring, among the more recent.   Awards include the Robert Haiduke Prize from the Bread Loaf School of English and first- and second-place prizes from Artists Embassy International.  "Found Horses" won Honorable Mention in The MacGuffin National Poet Hunt (2005), and other poems have been recognized with Pushcart or Best of the Net nominations.  Galloway  co-chairs the reading series, "Fourth Sundays, Poetry at the Claremont Library."



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