airplane food :: michael ryan

Compressed chicken product, festive succotashed rice,
dead iceberg lettuce with a pale cherry tomato
hard as a mothball, and the coup de grâce: a baby bundt cake
I expect will taste like my passport
but to my delight is not bad,
half-bad, or even sort-of-bad: it is good.
Good good good good good all good
this plain sweet baby bundt cake like much else
I shall never taste touch hear see or smell,
baked for the heavens in its own fluted tube pan
for every blessed one of us ticketed passengers,
purely for our pleasure and then only briefly—
ingested, enjoyed, absorbed, and fading from memory
since we lack the capacity to retaste baby bundt cake
unlike the many childhood wounds I experience
half a century later from the faintest reminders.
This same baby bundt cake might seem scandalous
to the incognito Michelin Guide reviewer
in a three-star restaurant in the south of France.
It could cost the owner-and-chef all his stars
when losing one drives such men to relentless self-torment.
It could cause his wife-the-hostess to cease loving him
instantly, if she had worked eighty-hour weeks with him in concert
painstakingly perfecting the desserts they were known for.
“Marcel, have you lost your senses?”
she’d scream (in French, of course),
“this bundt cake tastes like Michael Ryan’s passport!”
All right, she wouldn’t say like my passport
but some untranslatable invective for culinary blasphemy
such as “this bundt cake tastes like duck drop—
the underside of a sink-reduction of pig bristle—
your incontinent mother’s bidet brush holder”—
a local invective for premeditated betrayals
like secretly developing and serving a recipe
based on the winner of a Pillsbury bakeoff.
God knows what happened after their disgrace
to the couple, or their employees, much less their children,
especially the boy who loved nothing more
than working in the kitchen alongside his parents.
He certainly wouldn’t touch a bundt cake for the rest of his life.
The sight of someone enjoying one could make him furious
and the aroma of baking bundt cake wafting from a Paris apartment,
unidentifiable to the other strollers among the aromas of the city,
could make him weep automatically as if he had turned a faucet.
He would never discuss the bundt cake episode in interviews
after he had revolutionized the national pastry
and become famous for his supernal puffy Napoleons.
Bundt cake could mean only his father’s sudden dementia
and the years of grief and poverty suffered by his family,
but, since my experience and circumstances are so different,
I thought this bundt cake was really good.