on a diet :: william matthews

       Eat all you want
      but don’t swallow it.

      —Archie Moore

The ruth of soups and balm of sauces
I renounce equally. What Rorschach saw
in ink I find in the buttery frizzle
in the sauté pan, and I leave it behind,
and the sweet peat-smoke tang of bananas,
and cream in clots, and chocolate. I give
away the satisfactions of food and take
desire for food: I’ll be travelling light

to the heaven of revisions. Why be
adipose: an expense, etc.,
in a waste, etc.? Something like
the body of the poet’s work, with its
pale shadows, begins to pare and replace
the poet’s body, and isn’t it time?

miniscule things :: william matthews

There’s a crack in this glass so fine we can’t see it,
and in the blue eye of the candleflame’s needle
there’s a dark fleck, a speck of imperfection

that could contain, like a microchip, an epic
treatise on beauty, except it’s in the eye of the beheld.
And at the base of our glass there’s nothing

so big as a tiny puddle, but an ooze, a viscous
patina like liquefied tarnish. It’s like a text
so short it consists only of the author’s signature,

which has to stand, like the future, for what might
have been: a novel, let’s say, thick with ambiguous life.
Its hero forgets his goal as he nears it, so that it’s

like rain evaporating in the very sight of parched
Saharans on the desert floor. There, by chance, he meets
a thirsty and beautiful woman. What a small world!

the search party :: william matthews

I wondered if the others felt
as heroic
as safe: my unmangled family
slept while I slid uncertain feet ahead
behind my flashlight’s beam.
Stones, thick roots as twisted as
a ruined body,
what did I fear?
I hoped my batteries
had eight more lives
than the lost child.
I feared I’d find something.

Reader, by now you must be sure
you know just where we are,
deep in symbolic woods.
Irony, self-accusation,
someone else’s suffering.
The search is that of art.

You’re wrong, though it’s
an intelligent mistake.
There was a real lost child.
I don’t want to swaddle it
in metaphor.
I’m just a journalist
who can’t believe in objectivity.
I’m in these poems
because I’m in my life.
But I digress.
A man four volunteers
to the left of me
made the discovery.

We circled in like waves
returning to the parent shock.
You’ve read this far, you might as well
have been there too. Your eyes accuse
me of false chase. Come off it,
you’re the one who thought it wouldn’t
matter what we found.
Though we came with lights
and tongues thick in our heads,
the issue was a human life.
The child was still
alive. Admit you’re glad.

the scalpel :: william matthews

They’d stunned me groggy with Demoral and bland
assurances, but I could see it: a dour adolescent scythe.
100…I’d hate to meet that 99 tad when it grows to 98
up. And here’s what else I saw: my glowing corpse

amidst a huddle of apprentice docs—this is a teaching
hospital I’ve died in. Of course I can’t hear a word
they’re saying. “Let him be a lesson to you?” “What did
he do to be so black and blue?” I’m now curriculum

to them, but to the scalpel I’m the sweetest dream
that labor knows. And to myself? I’m like a dwindling
star. I watch the energy leap off me in tarry blobs
and writhing spurts of flame. How can they stand so close?

So this is what I came to, this last pyrotechnic dither.
The last imploding gleam of me winks out, reflected
by the scalpel. That’s a nice touch, I think, that mortal
flashbulb fading, first on the blade, then on the retina.

onions :: william matthews

How easily happiness begins by
dicing onions. A lump of sweet butter
slithers and swirls across the floor
of the sauté pan, especially if its
errant path crosses a tiny slick
of olive oil. Then a tumble of onions.

This could mean soup or risotto
or chutney (from the Sanskrit
chatni, to lick). Slowly the onions
go limp and then nacreous
and then what cookbooks call clear,
though if they were eyes you could see

clearly the cataracts in them.
It’s true it can make you weep
to peel them, to unfurl and to tease
from the taut ball first the brittle,
caramel-colored and decrepit
papery outside layer, the least

recent the reticent onion
wrapped around its growing body,
for there’s nothing to an onion
but skin, and it’s true you can go on
weeping as you go on in, through
the moist middle skins, the sweetest

and thickest, and you can go on
in to the core, to the bud-like,
acrid, fibrous skins densely
clustered there, stalky and in-
complete, and these are the most
pungent, like the nuggets of nightmare

and rage and murmury animal
comfort that infant humans secrete.
This is the best domestic perfume.
You sit down to eat with a rumor
of onions still on your twice-washed
hands and lift to your mouth a hint

of a story about loam and usual
endurance. It’s there when you clean up
and rinse the wine glasses and make
a joke, and you leave the minutest
whiff of it on the light switch,
later, when you climb the stairs.

the accompanist :: william matthews

Don’t play too much, don’t play
too loud, don’t play the melody.
You have to anticipate her
and to subdue yourself.
She used to give me her smoky
eye when I got boisterous,
so I learned to play on tip-
toe and to play the better half
of what I might. I don’t like
to complain, though I notice
that I get around to it somehow.
We made a living and good music,
both, night after night, the blue
curlicues of smoke rubbing their
staling and wispy backs
against the ceilings, the flat
drinks and scarce taxis, the jazz life
we bitch about the way Army pals
complain about the food and then
re-up. Some people like to say
with smut in their voices how playing
the way we did at our best is partly
sexual. OK, I could tell them
a tale or two, and I’ve heard
the records Lester cut with Lady Day
and all that rap, and it’s partly
sexual but it’s mostly practice
and music. As for partly sexual,
I’ll take wholly sexual any day,
but that’s a duet and we’re talking
accompaniment. Remember “Reckless
Blues”? Bessie Smith sings out “Daddy”
and Louis Armstrong plays back “Daddy”
as clear through his horn as if he’d
spoken it. But it’s her daddy and her
story. When you play it you become
your part in it, one of her beautiful
troubles, and then, however much music
can do this, part of her consolation,
the way pain and joy eat off each other’s
plates, but mostly you play to drunks,
to the night, to the way you judge
and pardon yourself, to all that goes
not unsung, but unrecorded.