Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Everything before has come to this,
careful settings and a gracious banquet.

We spent the days laying out the plan: roast 
turkey dressed with sage, orange, cloves; sauteed

Brussels sprouts with red onion; bread dressing 
with sausage and thyme; rutabaga (mashed);

cranberry chutney evolved through years of 
family tables. Outside, wet leaves drape 

the earth in colors of roast turkey and 
sweet potatoes. Men gather at the screen

for sports, not news. We’ve had enough of that 
this year, we agree. Aunt brings the sweetened

casserole, different each year. Worries 
of her job, her health, children’s grades and their 

latest misbehaviors, all mask her pride 
in them. They smile indulgently, roll their 

eyes. Mum brings the maligned cream corn, not so 
bad really, but an object of myth. Her 

years of aches and pains are annual sides. 
Uncle brings jokes and cigars, bottle of 

bourbon this year (scotch last), he wears this last
year of age like ten or twenty. Grandma, 

grandpa, and ghosts of all who have made this 
table before evoke unexpected 

memories from the linen and grayed plates. 
At the table prayer is said, wine poured and 

turkey carved, the children dance like powdered
sugar. Thank You for this sacred chaos. 


--c. 2011, by Martin A. Bartels (working draft)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Anya and the Glass Bowl

At the picnic, Anya (of Russian descent),
you told me how much the simple glass mixing
bowl meant to you, that it had once belonged to
babka, and at once I saw her aged hands and

wooden spoon working the pirozhki dough:
flour, baking powder and salt (a hefty pinch),
butter, eggs, and the secret ingredient—
sour cream. Or maybe I saw my own

grandmother’s hands (of French lineage),
dusted in flour for cookies or dinner rolls
as I perched on the back step pinching chives from
her simple garden. Turning over the green,

urgent sapor on my tongue, oblivious
to the fact that the moment was formative
somehow, would one day become a dear memory:
A flavor profile forecasting my own love

of cooking. At the picnic you peeled off
the cellophane, revealed a simple slaw:
cabbage shredded fine, dressing airy and
sour-sweet, I don’t know how you made it though I

must have asked for the recipe, just as
I no longer know how I ended up with the
bowl. I said I’d take it home for you, sure we’d
meet again. We never did. For years I

kept it hidden from harm imagining that
one day you might knock on my door and I would
hug you, say yes, I have your bowl. I’ve kept it well.  
You never knocked. Finally, last night, I pulled

it from its secret place, its tinted walls
thickened by layers of the weight of time,
began to chop carrots, onions, celery;
the start of a fine beef stew. Left unused the

bowl was emptier, somehow vacant, a
condition our grandmothers never would have
tolerated. Now filled it reminds me of
you. You spoke of sacred Russian icons

decorating whitewashed church walls and your
memories of childhood, playing p’yanitsa
in the haze of your uncle’s smoke, glass bowl
full then of tastes you could never replicate.

--c. 2011, Martin A. Bartels (working draft)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Common side effects may also include...

“Tired” will lose meaning and you 
will no longer know how to answer a 
simple “How are you?”

You may wake up and experience a
sudden hunger for silence,
noise, or distant places.

Things may take on their true size.
You will temporarily forget what matters.
You will revisit an old faith or invent a new one.

There is a kind of dementia that temporarily
spreads to your loved ones. We hear voices
in our heads that aren’t always kind.

You told me you hear them, too.

Streetlights may spontaneously dim
or light up when you pass.

The deconstruction of your marriage,
the reconstruction of your love,

the unbearable kindness of strangers,
but inevitably, also, the
unbearable strangeness of kindness.

--c. 2011, Martin A. Bartels (working draft)

Friday, November 4, 2011


The women sat beside me, casually intimate, clearly 
together, each a glass of wine and sharing a 

charcuterie plate; the insouciance of meat, the 
pale pate, shaved speck a marbled red, the dark 

lamb sausage lusty and earthen, yellow mustard, 
rustic bread. I couldn’t help but notice what was 

unsaid in the white margins and unpainted spaces
of their presence. I began to sketch her secretly, 

ink scratches really, the shocking blonde, the poised 
way she slipped into her barstool, her fashionable shawl 

tracing the shape of her body as the arm of a friend 
draped over her shoulder, an unconscious comfort. 

Each part of her clothing held a pattern, net tights
flowing from Burberry-plaid skirt, rope cable sweater,

and the shawl, pale blue knit, loose tassels so that
in motion she was only motion, your eyes couldn’t

rest in a single place for long, stealth clothing. 
Farmers once sealed the wood of barns from

rusted cans of linseed oil, sometimes blended with the 
spilled blood of livestock. The resulting tint dried a

ruddy brown-red, a fabric that became rural decor,
barns now signposts between farmland neighbors.

We reveal ourselves through social camouflage,
the weave of our histories etched in sacred origami. 

--c. 2011 Martin A. Bartels (working draft)