The Rules of the Kitchen

Vol LIII, Things I Never Want You to Find Out


Directions for Zen                                                                         

First, overfill an ancient (dead) family member’s fragile teacup until sordid speculation rings your resuscitated wooden table and your crossed legs become one, ankle and knee, ankle and knee.  Forget the fan above your head, flit, flit, flit; ignore the chink of clinking ice in the freezer door.  Your rear, however cushioned, will regain feeling before the lesson is through, and your feet will finish fizzing when you swallow the four noble truths. 
Empty that teacup; yearn to have room for something more inside your head (more than media, mediocrity, melodrama) and something less in that heavy, saffron robe.  Note not: Asians drive poorly, men love mildly, that starlet smokes weed, this neighbor steals mail.  Block: my spouse has gained weight and my male child is meek.  Meditate—even if you don’t know how.  Focus on emptiness, a brick-heavy topic with lead allegory: Just because you can drink tea from that cup, does not mean it is cup-ness. 
Really recognize, “The grass is always greener…” is a proverb made by a man who wanted what he could not have until his wants weighed his face down in one-inch of filthy baby bathtub water.  The phrase is not heard by those who consciously want what they have, or, philosophically, want nothing; wise men are deaf and poor.  Think: It IS greener where a dog doesn’t pee, where a car doesn’t run, where an obsessive compulsive waters with incessant care, and fertilizes each spring, and uses homegrown, only organic compost. 
Know: One should not speak unless it improves on silence.  This, by our world’s rules, though, only if you are not being subpoenaed, held at gunpoint, ridiculed, on a game show, phoning your ex, getting a test for myriad STDs or being asked, for the fiftieth time, “Do I look fat in this?”  Speech is not just aural, but tactile, visual.  A kind word can be a veritable kiss.
Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” 
You: “But Jimmy Choo is not celibate, perhaps not straight. He does not sit beneath a Bodhi tree, but stands under an arch in a Parisian boutique.  No sale on: heels, flats, daily wear, fuck-me pumps.”
Tzu (maybe) “We are: barefoot at birth, barefoot in child’s play, barefoot and pregnant, and we bare our souls as if they were more divine than the singing grasshopper, or his mute cousin.”
The teacher reiterates, “You must first empty your cup.” 
You: “I paid $4.95 at Starbucks for this.”



When Palmolive Doesn’t Clean the Pelicans and Anti-Bacterial Soap is Mud                                                                                
A perfect circle is harder to draw than one with once-pretty sides flattened by age, or heat, or glass pricks with impeccable aim and worse-than-teenaged-anal-sex timing.  It is pristine, like a nun’s fortress-of-faith ring, and unending as a hidden mental illness, without health insurance, or nearby clinics, or family who cares where hell might reside.  It is consistent: the rants of an uneducated racist, armed, near a sea of real democrats in a sweeping bread line in downtown D.C.
A circle—one stroke, no stops, bare and bucking—demands respect.  When we cannot get it right, as humans, we suffer the humiliation of simplicity beating (barren) patience.  We throw the pencil across the room and “Fuck!” all that is difficult that crossword day; we slip on the bath water, miss the bar, ignore the baby.  We give up, give in, give hope to that invisible space in the center of the room where an argument hovers, hangs in rough rope, still unclear, the place where the bruises begin to purple and her confidence pauses for breath.
And if we, even wrestling with a tangible protractor, cannot draw that perfect orb, we must admit so much more is beyond our greedy grasp: snowmen, cartoon eyes, halos, planets, condoms, pupils. Then heaven, love, purity, wisdom are square, rare, past and pruned to death under the thumb of desert thirst.  We cannot carry the baggage of beauty with bedraggled circumferences or lopsided stones cast by custom, even here, even now.

Children cry at the seemingly simple task; artists sigh, set their paints or pens or photos down to drink, instead.  This is because we know, if a perfect circle is so impossible, peace is possibly extinct.  Love cannot be what it seems on a cloudless day.  Our hands cannot be washed.



For Little Girls Once Dressed in Pink….                                                 

At what point do you give up, give in, decide to give less because there is nothing to gain from the give-and-take of a relationship that is teeter-tottering (he is heavier) and was over before it began? 
And what does it take to balance that playground toy, sanded as it is with: a disrespectful word, a scowl, a slap, a missing punctuation mark from one night, one party, one swinging compromise: rhythm method( )
When you are sixteen, and the world seems to spin on a carousel of shopping and proms, the sting of a butterfly needle hurts as much as an abstract idea—and for as long.  You might think: std, baby, babies, OUCH!  But once that needle is extracted, so is that terror.  Your stomach is still flat; your sometimes-boyfriend says he’s soooooo sorry.  That prick is just the past, and you’ve applied a band-aid.
The test was free at the clinic, but when it comes back positive, you know “free” won’t cover formula, diapers, toys or a crib.  “Free,” even “cheap,” is a train’s ride away from that senior trip to Prague, or your missing papa’s home in the Big Black Hole.  You’d get a job, but it would interfere with cheerleading practice; you’d have to pay your parents for gas.  You hope ob/gyns work on a sliding scale.
You ignore it, the baby grain of sand, then jelly bean.  Three months of throwing up and your mother thinks you’re bulimic; she asks you if you think you’re fat, if you’ve been reading her Cosmopolitans, if you’d like to talk to a nutritionist or see a personal trainer at her all-women’s gym.  You think, if you only wanted to look at naked, overweight women, you wouldn’t be in the predicament you are now.  You eat hot chilies, parsley, Blue Cohosh.  You jump up and down every chance you get.
At five months, you tell your best friend—a gay boy with his own issues—and he uses the term ‘breeders’ before he admits, “That sucks.”  He plays your mother in a dramatic rendition of you, spilling your guts, even telling about the date rape incident, holding nothing back.  He asks, “How could you be so irresponsible?”  You can tell him, “He’s hot,” and “He said he loved me,” but you won’t be able to tell your for-real maternal figure. 
You decide you cannot do it alone, this naked tail-telling.  You ask gay Jermaine to stay, to sit next to you at dinner, to interfere, physically if necessary.  Over omelets and hash browns, dry toast and pulp-free OJ, you whisper, “I’m having a baby.”  Your mother is deaf; you say, louder, “I’m pregnant.  I’m sure.”
Your mother leaves the table, one hand over her mouth; you will do the same in sixteen years.  Your step-father stands as he did when you were five at that park, and the long wooden plank with the broken handles and the split seat crashes down down down. You hurt: round ligament pain.  You cry.  In four months you’ll ask for an epidural, alone.



Beauty is in the Eyes of the Baby Be-Holder, and Other Myths
Online there are a thousand photographs of childbirth-beaten bodies: bruised bellies, breasts, backsides widened by hormones and love, passionate mistakes and mistaken passion in the midst of an aching need for stability—whatever that means after intercourse.  I forward these images, black and white, colored by female compassion, to friends who have had children or want to have children or dreamt of having children, once, but lost the fight with fertility and now bury themselves in work to ignore genetic ignominy. 
Some of these friends are older, wiser; they carry their stretch marks like purple hearts and buy bras that perpetrate as old-fashioned jello molds.  They know that there is nothing but scar-inducing surgery to change their mommy bodies, and so they humbly wear one-piece bathing suits, cover-ups, and befriend other wide women with baby battle fatigue.  They pour their gelatin hearts into making their children as happy as can be in low-income housing or devastating divorce decisions, as well as their better bits, whom they love more now than before when they were be-muscled, not bemused.  They know thirty pounds cannot undo thirty years.  They are heroes, however heavy.
I send these portraits to young mothers, too: mothers who wore single-digit jeans before children, who still wear single-digit clothing after children, who feel their self-worth is only equal to their designer pants size, and that their pant size must be smaller than their shoe size in order for them to be loved at all.  They love their children more than themselves, but make love to their spouses in the dark and buy cocoa butter by the gallon and, when they do gestate, do so with calorie counters and choreographed walks, leg lifts and nutritional guidelines meant for meditating ascetics.  They read The Pregnancy Running Guide, though they’ve never run before, and will only realize they are beautiful when old age deals equality.
I do not send these pretty portraits to barren women, women who have lost their children, women who have lost maternal rights or only see their children on rotating weekends, women who were once men and have no wombs or are still fighting for the right to foster kids in their home states.  They don’t need my posts; these women would gladly paste such photographs to their skin, staple them, walk naked in the judging center of town, thank God for their prizes.



A Radical Proposal                                                                         

They— a pious and political plural—say we (just two) cannot be married.  Some say it is because our bodies don’t fit together, in the way tab A fits into slot C (with salve), but they have never seen you comfort me. They have never seen you curl your strength around my core, offer courage via osmosis and hope through transdermal application. They have been blind to everything but our sex lives, and we are not nearly so buck wild.
Some say this—you and I—are unnatural.  It’s true; there are days when I wear make-up, straighten my hair, wear man-made material, even pick up dinner at the inorganic drive-thru.  I always wear glasses.  So I offer these natural men and women, these biblical rule-followers: Splenda for their coffee, their tea, and jiggers of vodka. I offer them birth control and DVRs.  I offer them gastric bypasses, plastic surgery, chemotherapy and Viagra.
They say that legal church bonding has always been between X and Y (for that ten minute in-and-out) and this is history, and history is sacred.  I ask them, then, and beg them not on blow-jobbing knees, but my bottoming back, to consider marriage between races, and an individual’s ability to divorce without being hanged.  I ask them to rethink owning people, and to tell men that their wives are not cattle, cannot be beaten, cannot be made to “obey” with a hot poker or a poking appendage. 

They whisper that God doesn’t recognize us, or our love, but surely HE is not so far-sighted.  I wonder if Yahweh, if Allah, if Vishnu, if Bahgwaan or Krishna can see this: the weighty political wars.  And if they cannot, does it mean we don’t exist?




The Perfect Pair                                                                          

It had been months, at least, since they’d had sex, and the last time had been so perfunctory, so planned and painstaking, that she’d barely panted, had not taken off her shirt, and, when she got up, she went straight to the grocery store.  (Her hair was still coiffed and her list was nagging her beyond thoughts of post-coital cuddling.)  There, she bought salad fixings and consciously resented her lack of orgasm while fingering firm produce.
She knew she was older—52—but her body seemed as hard as it had ever been, her breasts as high.  She still modeled, even, and was often seen in bathing suits, glittered fairy wings, ballerina costumes and ball gowns on the cover of international media.  Her husband modeled, too, but was less successful than she was and, sadly, not as endowed as either of them would have liked him to be.
They’d never had children, both of them infertile, but they had adopted her little sister, Kelly, and, in this way, felt fulfilled as parents throughout their thirties.  When Kelly went away to college, and then veterinary school, their empty nesting began.  They had to learn how to reengage with one another, how to see that they, in fact, were, literally, made for one another.  Often the pressure of being Mr. and Mrs. was too much, and they would retire to separate bedrooms in their Dream Home, with separate television remotes.
It did not come as a shock, of course, when she found out he’d been with someone else.  And she should have known this someone else would be a man.  She had tried so hard to keep as trim as the first day he met her, to bleach her grays and laser her legs.  She had succeeded in looking 21 forever, and even this hadn’t turned his head; everyone but she had known he was gay from this fact, alone.  She tried to tell him, “We can see a therapist, Ken.”
He simply shook his hard head, gestured to a man beyond their home in a pink convertible (a man who, oddly enough, looked just like Ken, only blonde) and said, “This is who I have always been, Barbie.”


The Cosbys We Are Not                                                                           

There is no “fun” in “dysfunction” when blood bickers at 1200 miles—ten cents a minute—and holiday gatherings mean verifying that, via nose shape and medically-approved DNA stripe, you are who your mother always said you were, and your father cannot deny it any longer.  Your unruly hair could stand-in for your late grandmother’s bush, and your brother’s eyebrows are unmistakable Brown family bristle.  You pop a Prozac.
And you do what you have to do, what is expected from you as the One Who Fits Least.  You break out the Cooking Light and brazenly brave the world of vegetarian fare for a meat-lover’s fete.  You know your brother will ignore your culinary muse; he will bring burgers from some drive-thru manned by Mexicans used to missing Catholic holy days, used to being maligned and mocked for mediocre English.  He will bring liquor, too, from the always-lit Jews’ store on the corner; they will heckle and whisper, “Mr. Jesus,” as he waits for that brown paper bag, not knowing your brother subscribes to Mr. Buddha and Jose Cuervo, alone, despite his WASP waltzing. 
You’ll call a dozen other Browns, holding both your tongue and ethical breath, and offer free sustenance for once-a-year civility.  Some will be thrilled to be invited at all, because the last time they drove the three hours to your home they drank too much, mooned the room, outed an aunt and nicknamed the newest addition “Troll Baby.” Some will screen their calls, first, as seeing their own last name on the caller I.D. means a future funeral, an expected engagement gift, a loan collection or divorce pity party. But eventually they will pick up; family guilt runs thick when newly-born or newly-risen Christian myths loom.
You will be patient as you cross off names; “How many are coming?” really means, “Are you and your on again-off again, squirrel-killing fiancé joining us?  Or is it just you and the unruly, out-of-wedlock kids?”  Your sister-in-law isn’t stupid—her IQ is at least 70 and she knows enough to have a pregnant friend pee on the pregnancy test she threatens her fickle man with—she just prefers to keep the family in suspense about her nocturnal emission adventures, as well as who she might be dating behind the baby daddy’s back.  She, also, prefers you don’t mention her tremendous weight gain or weighty new tits.  She says “Four,” but leaves out names.
You will tell everyone, “2 o’clock,” and know that, playing telephone against the tick tock of Brown time, this request will be muted or misinterpreted or simply ignored.  The many genetically-linked pairs of retrieving ears belong to strange and once-estranged individuals who don’t care when you’ll be dressed, showered, or the ham and turkey finished.  They only hear the answer to, “Will there be beer?”  They only care if cards with money will be exchanged.
At 11:52, that day, your mother-in-law will tsssk the sad turn of titillating events before they even begin.  She will say to one daughter, “In my day, mothers did not wear thongs.”  Pause.  Smoke an unfiltered cigarette despite her oxygen tank.  “They didn’t give blow jobs in public, either.”  To which the other sister, the one who’s been married four times and has never had to change her last name (one brother, a cousin, and two uncles later, she uses the same monogrammed fingertip towels from her first marriage) will explain, “Dark alleys aren’t ‘public,’ mother.”  You will turn your back to hide your laugh and seal the tailored tofu with rum glaze.


The phone will ring (1:45); the youngest brother-by-marriage will be late.  He is busy snorting coke or spanking a prostitute he met in Canada when the ice fishing holes were too cold for skinny-dipping.  He will call from his cell, drunk: “I’ll be there at three, I swear.  I’ll bring the fuckin’ dip, okay?”  He, of course, will mean tobacco.  Your father-in-law will take his fake teeth out in wild anticipation, unaware of the irony of “swear” and “fuck” and both during Easter.  He will gleefully gum a Pillsbury roll; his wife will roll her eyes.
At two o’clock the table will be set with crystal rabbits, Faberge eggs, and other appropriate statuettes of springtime animals NOT mating or wounded by a four-year-old toting a hunting rifle or molested by the very distant delegates from West Virginia.  You will say hello to all versions of sinners and saints over contemporary images of one iconic lamb: (cheap) hookers, drug-addled cousins, the brother who drinks too much, the mother who knows it and ignores it, the great-grandmother who grew up in a Catholic orphanage, and you—the lone lesbian who does not believe that African Americans are “colored foreigners” or that Muslims should be banned from public office.  You are the one who created THIS meal, and you are agnostic.
So you will pour wine seconds before your sister-in-law (who WILL bring her Hell’s Angel fiancé, but will not wear her engagement or Nuva rings) can kiss your cheek or pass out her best friend’s sonogram picture and list last year’s best baby names.  There will be a moment—less than a minute—of grace: holding hands around a food-filled table in order to signal the start of the feeding frenzy. 
Before hands are dropped, or elderly pants, it will begin to rain outside, syncing nature with your slowly sinking sanity.  This will be a fine finish to that fated day.  You know: rain (RAIN) can wash away watercolors on hidden eggs, muddy footprints on the porch, soft feces from visiting animals with bellies full of fatty gravy, and Martha Stewart visions of meringue peaks.  But as a premonition of your brother breaking out the mandatory Milwaukee’s Best surfaces, you will think: Sometimes family ties are meant for hanging…


Shadow People. Still.                                                                  

Once, when the world was flat, and women couldn’t vote, I knew you: dark, quiet, a bottom with few words but “Yes,” and “Sure,” the vernacular of the bartering broken and furrowing few under a black sky whispering soul songs.
You wouldn’t raise your eyes to mine, then, and you couldn’t leave my land, tethered as you were by the cadence of culture.  This was when it was legal to beat your wife on six continents, force her to have sex with you, then divorce her because she didn’t conceive that coveted child, but gaggles of girls.  This: greasy fingerprints on canonized crystal.
Once, Galileo was kept, and we all agreed; we killed the Jews because they, too, were dark and not our kind.  (They grew no wheat…) We stoned a woman to death because she dared fall in love, and we carved our daughters with scythes so they wouldn’t feel love at all when they married.  You (YOU) slept on bales of hay unbefitting a baby Jesus and your wrists stung with the seal of someone else’s name.
This was when genocide was comfortable: Aboriginals, Cherokees, Dzungars, Assyrians, Tibetans.  This was when we learned that AIDS was real; we learned death could follow us in a needle or needed bottle, a fuzzy drive, a telephone pole plastered with “Missing” fliers of missed and ministered youth.  You worked as hard as me, made pennies, paid into a system that practiced, but not what it should have preached.
Now, you are still.  You are still dark, quiet, seen but not heard; your voice is tagged as misogynistic, your women easy, your men jailbirds.  You are chained, choked by images: fried chicken, collard greens, watermelon.  All this, and the world is round.