How To Wolf A Cook
Prepare the mise en scène: lower the lights
and pour from her slim-necked carafe a half glass
of something chilled, astringent. Now let
your ravening gaze travel her nether-curves
as she spoons the stew or ladles the soup
into a shallow bowl and dresses it
with thyme she's torn from the stem.
You notice her thumbprint in the biscuit
as you bite down, a bit of gristle buried
in a chunk of lamb, the potatoes
neither row nor soft, but to the tooth.
She's in your mouth, wrestling
your tongue into an admission
of hunger—no, need—you'll speak
her words, your breath scented of her resin.
And once you've polished her off, toe to toque,
you'll wipe your trembling mouth on her red cloak.
© 2006 Leslie McGrath
previously published in Alimentum, Issue One Winter 2006
and in Opulent hunger, Opulent rage, Main Street Rag Publishing Co. 2009
1) What first sparked this poem?
I love everything to do with food, including cooking it. The idea for the poem was inspired by MFK Fisher's book, How to Cook a Wolf. I flipped it around and voila, I could write a poem about sex and food at the same time!
2) Tell us about this poem's life.
This was a case of lightening bolt inspiration. It took me about a week to write a first draft, then another week to tweaking. I try not to use words I'll have to explain to audiences when I read, but the couple of French words seemed necessary at the time. And the ending, with its allusion to Little Red Riding Hood, struck me on waking up one morning. I knew it was right. I don't have this feeling very often, unfortunately.
3) How long did it take to go from inspiration to published?
I did what I usually do with poems, having taken Donald Hall's advice that the poet live with the work a bit before casting it out there. I sat on it for a couple of months, then sent it out to Alimentum, one of my favorite literary magazines, which focuses completely on food. They took it, along with a couple of other poems, for their first issue. I had the pleasure of reading it in New York with non other than Oliver Sacks and Mark Kurlansky. It was a little intimidating.
4) Are you satisfied with this poem?
Not completely. I'm uncomfortable with the phrase mise en scene which comes in the first line. It was a jokey nod to mise en place, a term for the preparation done before cooking so the cook can simply fling chopped herbs into a dish with great panache. A mis en scene is a stage setting. It's correctly used, but I think a term like that coming so early in a poem can create a distance for the reader—and that's something I want to avoid.
5) What, in particular, do you, the poet, like about this poem and why?
This is one of my favorite poems to read at readings. It speaks to a cook's power in feeding her loved ones something she's chosen and labored over. Her food, once eaten, becomes part of their bodies, their very thoughts. It's a very intimate act. I think the poem succeeds because it's as delicious to say as it is to hear. I feel as though I've eaten something right along with the audience, and we're connected because of this.
Leslie McGrath's poetry has appeared in Agni online, Alimentum, Beloit Poetry Journal, Black Warrior Review, Connecticut Review, DIAGRAM, Nimrod, Poetry Ireland, and elsewhere. Her literary interviews have appeared in the Writer's Chronicle and on public radio. She is the winner of the 2004 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, her chapbook, Toward Anquish, won the 2007 Philbrick Poetry Award. Her collection of poetry, Opulent hunger, Opulent rage won the 2009 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. She is also the editor, along with Ravi Shankar, of Reetika Vazirani's posthumous poetry collection, Radha Says (Drunken Boat Press, 2010). She is the former managing editor of Drunken Boat, an online journal of the arts.