The Rules of the Kitchen

Vol XXIX, Material Questions

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director and worked as an art dealer when he couldn't earn a living in the theater. He has also been a tennis pro, a ditch digger and a salvage diver. His chapbook 'Remembrance' was published by Origami Condom Press and 'The Conquest of Somalia' was published by Cervena Barva Press. A collection of his poetry 'Days of Destruction' has been published in 2009 by Skive Press. Another collection 'Expectations' is being published by Rogue Scholars Press. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway and toured colleges and outdoor performance venues. He currently lives in New York City, where he's busy writing. His poetry and fiction has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines.

Confused Peace

Unlike hawks,
doves are flock birds
and on close observation
it’s a surprise to learn
they are quite violent.
The predatory hawk
operates alone
and except for a mate,
is a solitary bird,
who has no flock urges,
only kills for food,
rarely attacks others,
lacks basic social skills
and is content in nature,
as long as man permits
the existence of nature.
The dove, however,
with slight encouragement,
will sidle up to man
for sustenance.
Somehow we’ve made the dove
a symbol of peace,
while the hawk represents war.
These labels are as confused
as the writers who invoke them,
and further lead us astray
from the issues that confront us.

 

 


 

 

Lead Us Not….

Perfection is a fantasy
that foolish minds babble of
when less rooted in reality,
or absorbed in escapism.
At our human best we often err
and our failings are more extensive
then our taken-for-granted virtues.
Goodness is far less exciting
than the squalid titillation
of unadulterated evil,
which is demonstrated daily
in the media presentations
of every kind of horrendous crime,
arson, rape, assault, robbery,
and nothing appeals as much to viewers
as a marriage ending murder.
We spectate with as much delight
as patrons of the Roman Games,
diverted from daily problems
by unscrupulous tyrants.
Baser elements of human nature
are eminently exploitable
and we must constantly struggle
to resist the temptation
to succumb to moral decay.

 

 


 

Allocation of Resources

 

Street crime in America,
according to the N.Y. Times,
is supposed to be down, down, down,
and citizens should feel safer.
Yet acts of extreme violence
are becoming more commonplace,
making many of us feel inured
to unacceptable horrors.
As our prisons grow more populous
than some of the world’s small nations,
we should consider the lost resource
of men idly sitting in their cells,
serving unproductive sentences,
who might possibly be enlisted,
with the appropriate protections
of our approving society,
to do constructive public service
with a chance for complete redemption.

 

 


 

Disasters

 

Fortunate survivors
often reminisce
about the horrors they escaped,
frequently confusing
their capabilities
with just plain good luck.
As time and distance
cloak traumatic events
in vague or exact remembrances,
diverse interpretations,
or fading perceptions,
it may be useful to accept
that despite the best preparations
to confront dangerous situations
the appearance of chance
results in salvation.

 

 


 

Material Questions

 

Buildings of brick or stone
admit insufficient light
to alter the resolution
demanded by commerce.
Buildings made of glass
test the commitment
of lowly workers
to resist distraction
from the views of freedom,
and remain diligent
in repetitive tasks.
Buildings of metal
dazzle the viewer,
but contain employees
who rust away unnoticed.

 


 

 

Chess Master

Chess master,
twisted by the board of life,
a predatory hustler,
hulking in chess shop lairs,
dormant until prey appears.
When a stranger enters,
greasy eyestalks calculate
the volume of his treasure.
Only suckers pass inspection
and are admitted to camaraderie,
for as long as they will play and pay….
Fifty cents a game….
The master’s way.

 


 

 

Iraqi Conflict

This morning I took the bus
to the village where I was born
to discuss events with the imam,
who has counseled me since childhood.
I told him of my confusion
since the Americans invaded.
They made all sorts of promises,
if we didn’t resist their attack
and like many of my shiite friends
I left the army without fighting,
and then our country surrendered.
There was little resistance at first,
despite infidel occupation
of our sacred Islamic land.
Then the cowardly flight of Saddam,
which meant the end of sunni rule,
gave hope to my shiite brothers
that we would be allowed to worship
in the glory of the one true faith,
no longer fearing persecution.
Then sunni resentment was inflamed
and disorder threatened the land.
Roadside bombs flourished like flowers,
whose blossoms erupted in death.
The men of Al Qaeda arrived,
burning with zeal for destruction,
lusting to slay Americans,
or other foreign invaders,
and explosions became daily song.
There was talk of a new government
that would give us all democracy,
but the son of the murdered El Sadr
aroused discontent in the poor,
and hatred in the fanatics
against American soldiers,
and the new Iraqi government.
Then the sons and daughters of Iraq
became targets of terror,
and their deaths bring us much sorrow.
My older brother joined the police

 

and was killed by a suicide bomber.
My sister became a translator
for the minister of Education,
and was shot down in the street like a dog.
When I was summoned by Al Qaeda           
to fight the infidel enemy,
I didn’t know who was the enemy.
There are foreign occupiers,
the displaced loyalists of Saddam,
our powerless new government,
the cunning agents of Iran,
the treacherous men of Syria,
the bloodthirsty henchmen of terror,
and the smug people from the U.N.
I do not know who I should support.
I do not know who I should oppose.
Our respected religious leaders
do not speak out against the slaughter
of innocent Iraqi people,
simply trying to survive chaos.
Their exalted voices are silent,
so I visit a village imam
in the hope of obtaining guidance
to follow the will of Allah,
in a time of terrible troubles.

 


 

Muse

 

Tyrants never seem to commission
small statues, or small paintings,
preferring the dominant display
of a larger than life image
that constantly intimidates
in public spaces.
This visual surveillance
reminds the subject people
that they must always maintain
appropriate respectful demeanor.
Despite the obvious conclusion
that conspirators are too cautious
to gather under the watchful eyes
of Uncle Joe, or Popa Doc,
the secret police still remain alert
for undesired criticism
of the artistic elements
of their self-appointed leaders.

 

 


 

 

Displays

Rapid transmission of information
generally disturbs the tranquility
of citizens going about their business,
hoping to avoid multiple demands
on their limited attention spans.
Before the advent of tv
it took awhile for daily news
of death, disaster, destruction,
to reach readers, or listeners,
with details of recent horrors.
Once upon a time
murder could be committed
in relative obscurity.
Wars and invasions could be waged
without public supervision.
Every kind of crime and abuse
was mostly carried out in private.
Then portable tv cameras
proliferated throughout the world
and endless hordes of eager peekers
poked their avid lenses everywhere,
recording the most dreadful acts
of man the destroyer.
Now all the visual displays
of our varied iniquities
have not modified our behavior,
but merely made some of us
pathologically eager
to flaunt evil for an audience.

 

 


 

 

Survivor

Going north to Vermont,
on Route Seven,
somewhere in the twilight,
in the Green Mountains,
the road spirals up and round,
down into darkness,
headlights snaring
a lonely felon,
a deer.
Violet eyes of fright
blaze before her flight.
She made it this time.
She was beautiful, wild, free,
much wooed by fenders.

 

 


 

Welcome Me, Tiresias

 

Fueled by endless failures
in every aspect of my life,
I struggle with the day to day paradox
of exercising faith without belief.
I never focused my desires
on material prosperity,
consequently, am not entitled
to complain about the absence
of expensive possessions,
and certainly am not surprised
that all my passionate efforts
to serve the needy, write, create,
contribute meaningfully
to a decaying culture,
have met complete rejection.
Yet I continue to persevere
in the elusive expectation
that I will be able to maintain
some hope of amelioration
for the discouraging future.

 

 


 

Mexican Vision

 

Maria Sanchez,
daughter of a land of sun,
whose body never loved by water
begins to lose its juices in the sun.
Ah, Maria of the tears,
your husband’s gone across the border.
Are your thighs lonely?
Do they sing to lusty men
who pass your doorstep in the evenings?
Ay, Maria,
the good Virgin understands.
She will send your husband home with wealth,
or not at all.

 

 


 

Comfort Zone

 

Decay is inevitable
for anything organic
and human institutions
certainly qualify
with their peculiar penchant
for ossification.
But we shouldn’t sit back and lament
the demise of our creations,
which are not roads to eternity,
merely temporary way stations,
devised by a clever species
to assist needy travelers
on their confusing journeys.

 

 


 

 

Tenement Trap

Generation after generation
have smoldered relentlessly
within your bile-green walls.
Italian, Jewish, Black, Hispanic,
all indiscriminately
filled the air shaft with refuse,
protesting their coffin confines.
The dirt encrusted windows blend
changing seasons into one entombment
of thwarted hopes or expectations,
crushed by the scurry of rat and roach feet.
No wonder so many of your children,
arbitrarily consigned to squalor,
rejected the feeble offerings
of a disdainful society
and encouraged by embittered parents,
turned their abilities to crime.

 


 

Aquatint

 

Often stormy China sea
whispered by pungent ghosts
adrift on lost junks,
fifty ancestors deep,
harboring mysteries of decay.
British sailor, 1880 imperialist old,
riddled with pox….
Relics of rubber empires,
(blind to Tai Mountain)
Opium nights,
brotheled wenches of churning hips,
(yellow brother plots and schemes)
then home after eighteen years,
(no more lizards on the ceiling)
and Cora runs off with a gun-boat officer.
Waterfront gutter drunk,
singing raucous, whiskey songs….
Of youth….A woman….Unsyphilitic love….
A teardrop of filth ,
washed across exotic maps….
China sea.

 

 


 

 

Dependent Nature

The daily struggle for survival
is a phenomenon of nature
that compels all living creatures
to accept the harsh reality
that they must eat or be eaten.
Only mankind defies the laws
that govern earthly existence,
by inventing new devices
that protect them from disaster.
The more vulnerable creatures
who can’t adapt to rapid change
will inevitably be doomed
to extinction of their species,
or will be dependant on man
for continuation of life.

 

 


 

 

e Equals….

Adrift in the chaotic universe,
I urgently need to maintain control
of some elements of existence
that challenge my trivial power.
As my planet speeds through its orbit,
I barely cling to the surface,
pressured by every kind of force,
especially that of gravity.
I fear eco-disaster everywhere,
see man’s best creations wasted in war,
yet precisely align my dresser drawers,
in a mostly futile effort
to establish a sense of order.

 

 


 

Sun

After many days of cold rain
august Vermont began to dry
despite the loud complaints
from sundry birds
that had not helped one bit.
But sometime after lunch
the sun finally broke through
the tease of clouds
keeping things wet and chilled
and shined just long enough
to factory whistle to work
bees, flies, gnats.

 

 


 

 

The Peril of Age

Political inclinations
that generally conflict
sometimes become more moderate
when youthful passions are tempered.
There are general exceptions,
primarily senility,
which tends to make one querulous
and impatient of another.
Then there is loss of appetite,
when the struggle becomes boring
and makes it hard to remember
what the effort is all about.
Fatigue is a tranquilizer
that erodes the will for combat,
drains one of the perseverance
that provided satisfaction.
The worst condition of old age,
is when one is too numb to care
what happens to the world at large,
because it no longer matters.
Loss of transmission of knowledge
from one generation to the next
causes dumbing down of our country
and threatens the future of youth,
who may no longer be smart enough
to insure future survival.

 

 


 

Ars Brevis

 

Culture clutchers
can no longer sustain themselves
against the rude assault
of omnipresent rap.
Practitioners of the monotonous beat
are far too aggressive
for the fragile followers
of the more delicate arts.
The future of ballet, drama, painting
will ultimately be decided
by the raucousness
of street performers.

 

 


 

Decline and….

 

Our brash exuberance is gone,
replaced with sober apprehension.
The spirit that put men on the moon
has departed and left uncertainty.
We, the formerly opinionated,
always eager to tell the world
exactly how it should be run,
until the fierce assault of terror
that enhanced our economic doubts
shook our faith and frightened us,
making some yearn for isolationism,
while we quiver in indecision;
some are for war and some are against.
Once we who were Americans
united in speaking one language,
and now divided by conflicting values,
are not eager to assume tomorrows,
have dwindled to ordinary people,
preoccupied with day to day affairs
and can no longer foretell the future.

 

 


 

Unheard Arias

 

The purple finch and house finch
are unappreciated
by busy city dwellers,
who will never take the time
to listen for a moment
to their melodious song
that would please receptive ears
that are otherwise deafened
by the city commotion.