Sustenance

          Ingredients:
3 pounds pork shoulder, cubed to 1" size
1 cup orange juice, sour to bitter
1 hot green pepper, diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 teaspoon each of salt, black pepper
thyme

          On the kitchen
television, the evening programming
brings in the latest from Port-au-Prince,
a different litany of figures: 7.0 magnitude;
245,000 buildings destroyed; over 160,000
dead; 3,000,000 injured and homeless. And
here, in my chef’s kitchen, I am preparing
griot,
          a calorically
sinful dish we’d fallen improbably
in love with, on a trip five years past.
Paired with riz djon-djon, an exquisite side
of rice sautéed in garlic and butter and
a type of tiny, aromatic mushroom
from the northern sweep of
Haiti.
          Everything
in a large pot, marinated overnight
in the refrigerator, so that the flavours
infuse the meat. Placing the pot
on the stove, I fill it with water until
it just covers all the mixture, then
bring things to a simmer.
45 minutes.
          But nothing
is the same anymore; not the Cathédrale
Notre-Dame de L'Assomption or its
lighthouse cupola where we made our
pledges; not Pétionville where you shared me
banana pésée under Antillean sunshine; not
l’Université d’Etat, where I rediscovered
love.
          Only to lose it.
I am tearing off the mushroom stems now, the
inedible parts, like the pieces of our lives
we cast off, bury, try to forget, hoping
that it leaves us more whole than we were
before, hoping that this time we will not
taste that caustic undertone, acerbic and
bitter.
          Like a dispassionate
oracle, the televised satellite stream
pronounces its dreadful aphorisms:
near the epicentre, an obliterated Léogâne;
Petit-Goâve destroyed; a Jacmel broken and
desolate; the holocaust of a Port-au-Prince
put asunder by the earth’s titanic
shrug.
          And I am consumed
by the immensity of it, drowned in the loss
of you, overwhelmed by the triage of Haiti,
my heart, and the demands of this griot, this
melange of memories that was to be my comfort
food, burning in oil, 1/2 cup of despair.
And suddenly I am texting, over and over,
Yele,
          Yele, Haiti, to the number
scrolling on the periphery of my vision,
sending out pieces of my soul to wander
among the dispossessed, to assuage
the hungry, trickling droplets to the
thirsty stream, trying in desperation
to stem this raging, inexhaustible
fire.



55 comments:

  1. Short link - http://bit.ly/s4sustenance

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  2. Love the way this one builds, and love the formatting, so solid, unlike the tatters of Haiti. The parallels are complex and beautifully drawn.

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  3. The raw and the cooked.

    The richness of this song makes me believe in things and places I don't know, words I have not yet heard.

    The ending, moving into action, "fruit"less or not, we never know, gives a twist that infuses the narrators thoughts with a desperation I can taste.

    Not, just well done, exquisitely executed, delicious, a reliquary.

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  4. Ahhh, more of your magic. This is a slice of heaven. Beautiful, Sam!!!

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  5. You move me and emphasise my frustration of being unable to help the people of Haiti, the realisation that nothing matters when we know others are suffering.

    Yet one thing does matter, and that is knowing that another feels the same, and who expresses the feeling of frustration that nobody else really conveys. We all donated money to Haiti, but to really express the sadness we feel for Haiti is a great thing, and I commend you for it.

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  6. Wow. I am...speechless. Absolutely phenomenal. My Lord, you are gifted.

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  7. Wow what a beautiful piece. I love the style layout.This is certainly so different and unique.Exclusively exceptional. Now I'm speechless!

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  8. Love,food,and tragedy-brilliant amalgam of all we hold important-slipping away-our having no real control in our destiny here.Emotive,soft,and kind but so evocative of our deepest emotions. Beautifully put. I feal you. You're a lovely person. I can empathize with all you lost in love+Haiti the nurishment of flavors remembered.Bless you angels who illuminate suffering allowing us to see.

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  9. I am overwhelmed by the response to 'Sustenance' here and on my other networks, I am thankful especially for the letters that expressed that the poem moved them to action.

    As I write this, the tragedy continues. Please visit Wyclef Jean's foundation for Haiti website www.yele.org to see how you can help. No matter how small, we can make a difference.

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  10. Impressive work as always Samuel. You are a rare bird among poets, able to synthesize the mundane and transmundane through your verse. The situation in Haiti is a tragedy beyond words, which you have nevertheless managed to address more than adequately here. Bravisimo!

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  11. "the earth's titanic shrug"

    There is a brilliant marriage of distance and proximity in this poem and, as the commenter above this says, the mundane and the inconceivable.

    What a poet you are, Sam. Glad I found you.

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  12. Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    I would like to acknowledge 'Undercurrents', a print literary magazine out of San Diego State University, where this poem was first published in print.

    The tragedy continues in Haiti and elsewhere, please remember we live on one planet, and reach out.

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  13. Fiona C.12:55:00 PM

    Very poignant, and brilliant. Thank you so very much for the reminder that we have responsibilities beyond our own immediate concerns.

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  14. Brilliant, powerful, moving - you capture our horror at what we are hearing as we go about our daily duties, along with some powerfully poignant remembering. You are a brilliant poet but this poem, especially, really is in a class all by itself. A most astounding write! A privilege to read it.

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  15. As each new disaster occurs, the older ones tend to become forgotten, pushed into the background as more and more calls for new help are issued to the general public and yet, the problems are still all there and still on-going.
    This is heart-wrenching for its truth. Exquisite writing for its art and the complex issues it contains and yet, simplicity of message.

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  16. Wow! You managed to grip my interest with that recipe up top and then compelled me to consider social injustices in very specific terms. This piece proves that the way to our hearts, our minds is often through our stomachs. Sad, but true. Well done.

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  17. I love the juxtaposition of cooking at home and getting such horrific news. I think this helps illustrate the many layers we all live in simultaneously and how once in while the layers intersect. A very powerful write indeed.

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  18. This is just so unbelievably powerful in conception and execution - something entirely in a class of its own.

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  19. love the ironic juxtaposition of consumerism and disaster which too is often rendered into just another image.roots, however deep and forgotten, keep tugging though, wherever we may be.

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  20. We must not forget about the people of earlier disasters who still continue to suffer. This poem goes full circle from a meal to the desperation of a people and country.

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  21. The contrasts here so vividly drawn, between now and then, comfort and disaster, marinating and burning, love and loss, make this imminently real and relatable--very finely drawn with not a word wasted, or an emotion indulged even one nuance too far--the balance of the even language tipping itself into grief makes the rocking of the earth and the devastation all the more shocking and immediate. An excellent poem, and a reminder not to forget for our ever shallow butterfly times; the motif of the delicious foods makes the chronic hunger of Haiti jump at our self-indulgent throats.

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  22. I like the building and contrast of the richness of food and travels, to the despair and destruction of the country. In many parts of the world, a lot more suffer in hunger, both natural and man made. Deep and powerful write..thanks for sharing this ~

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  23. I hope you know how good a writer you are. this was pinpoint accurate and still harbored all the emotion and acumen required to make it real. Wonderful words, wonderful glimpse, wonderful writing.

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  24. Dualistic quality here -- calmly going about preparing dinner, at the same time part of one's heart given to the victims of a devastating disaster. There's this interesting separation and an awareness of that in this poem. Thought-provoking piece.

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  25. Love this form, and flow. Especially:
    "I am tearing off the mushroom stems now, the
    inedible parts, like the pieces of our lives
    we cast off, bury, try to forget, hoping
    that it leaves us more whole than we were
    before"

    Exactly.

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  26. the
    inedible parts, like the pieces of our lives
    we cast off, bury, try to forget, hoping
    that it leaves us more whole than we were
    before


    really like those lines sam...i love that you embed the recipe here as well...smiles...this is a really evocative piece...most creatively delivered...i like...

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  27. I read this yesterday and (thought) I left a long comment. It didn't seem to save properly. I let you know of all the wonderful lines I favored. But in truth, I almost highlighted the entire piece. Loved it. So creative.

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  28. What an overwhelming, earthshaking, tidal-wave of loss - personal, immemorially, globally. The metaphor of the recipe enlarging the loss - while one can eat, others starve. Really heartbreaking yet beautiful work!

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  29. This is subject matter to drown in, making the everyday trivial and our concerns for it guiltladen. Again, not an easy poem from you. how does it feel to you now, reading it? As powerful as it did when you wrote it?

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  30. These are powerful lines... Yele, Haiti, to the number
    scrolling on the periphery of my vision,
    sending out pieces of my soul to wander
    among the dispossessed, to assuage
    the hungry, trickling droplets to the
    thirsty stream, trying in desperation
    to stem this raging, inexhaustible
    fire.

    Excellent!

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  31. Another great piece, what can I say that hasn't already been said?

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  32. Wonderful piece pulling apart thoughts against actions, emotion against need....totaling engaging...bkm

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  33. This was excellent! So much emotion - not what I expected when I started with the recipe at the top. The narrative form you used for the poem was perfect for the subject. Peace, Linda

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  34. Wonderful, wonderful write--a beautiful study in contrasts to heighten emotion and angst--I loved this!

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  35. This has such veracity, the powerlessness countered by a desire to forget, to burrow further into our own lives. Magnificent write.

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  36. Love the contrast between the title "Sustenance" and the ending words of "raging, inexhaustible fire". Creative, artful use of the recipe in the beginning. Full of contrasts. There is the "pork shoulder", and then the grief and loss. Excellent piece.

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  37. wow sam...just awesome how this flows together...how the different parts and emotions more and more melt with each other...the emotions can be tightly felt and are masterfully expressed and the cooking set up makes it all even more real...just wow

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  38. I love the juxtaposition of recipe and regret. This works excellently, both in terms of its form and its brilliantly expressed content.

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  39. So intricate and deep in its thought...how the simple pleasure of food can evocke such feeling and memory- signalling the tradition of haiti- so easily soured by adding a cup of despair into the mix. Life can be like a recipe- you need certain elemnts for it to taste right- you need to put it together just right- but when something goes wrong- a pot breaks, or ingrediants are spoiled- so can be the dish in its etirety. Fantastic work as usual Sam- so creative & imaginative

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  40. Mouthwatering opening, drifting into sadness of those who go hungry, through no fault of their own. I think we all remember certain days in our lives, that day is one I wont forget. Then we feel the sense of despair, or is that just paying lip service?
    I dont know who you managed to weave a recipe in with a natural disaster, but you did and it works very well indeed.

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  41. I tried commenting on this last night, but wasn't able to so I'll see if it will take this time. It's a very powerful piece for me in that it takes my mind in two directions at once. One part of me loves the way you begin with a recipe- such a novel beginning, I don't think I've ever read a poem that included a recipe. And, from a poetic standpoint I really enjoy the flow, formatting, and beautiful language use. On the other hand, I'm drawn into the poem's ability to put the hardships of others into a different light when placed alongside the comfort of our own lives. It makes the everyday problems seem insignificant by comparison. Very fine writing indeed.

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  42. I love this juxtaposition of overflowing with richness soup and the devastation of earthquake/tsunami. The poem starts so harmlessly and even upbeat with the recipe ingredients and then steers and ends with a recipe for disaster with death stats replacing measurements. Well done.

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  43. A recipe/disaster...both come into the home via television...a mixture of delight and devastation. I remember 911 in much the same manner. We were baking a cake and then peace was shattered. Brilliant piece!!

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  44. Oh my heavens! I'm experienced everything from temptation to the guilt that comes with gluttony. I am savoring aroma's and saying prayers for lives lost. I am sustaining myself with Mother Earth's wares while at the same time, fearing her wrath. A roller coaster of a read that was beyond experienced. It will linger long, poet!

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  45. This is so multi-faceted, filled with so many dimensions of humanity and and our awareness of who we are ourselves and our relationship with others. It's amazingly inventive, from the recipe to the catastrophe figures, to the interlacing of dialog and narrative. It's so powerful as memory and reality collide and create a space for understanding of to form, an understanding based on compassion and self-realization. And, thruout, you maintain the grip on our consciousness by your masterful control of the medium.

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  46. I love the idea of sending out pieces of your soul. Beautiful poem. :)

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  47. Griot (I love it)..sin is always rich and delicious like caloric sin
    Haiti still in devastation but yesterday's news.As long as it is NIMBY it is of no real concern to most of us. It is the face of a secular unspiritul materialistic consumerist world which will blow up in our faces sooner rather than later if we continue.I know this is a spiky comment but you have been enveloped with too much silk already:)

    Thus spake Rallentanda.

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  48. i think i saw this one on another site of yours, some time ago. i was moved by it then & wanted to say something, but didn't know if you even checked the page anymore. i'm so happy to see it here & getting the attention it deserves. there is so much feeling to it, in the language & the way you use it-- those last two verses especially... they make my heart ache.

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  49. I want to express a great sentiment about this more than amazing poem, but find myself profoundly speechless.

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  50. Years on, I continue to be overwhelmed at the response to this poem. We've done much - but with earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural and human-made disasters, much still needs to be done. Please contact The Red Cross or a similar agency in your area, to see how we can continue to help.

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  51. Beautiful - you have captured our feelings when disasters occur so clearly - the structure is just so novel and perfect - we live on such thin fragile threads

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  52. You are one of the best out there and I admire your work...this is a wonderful and thoughtful piece of writing the contrasts of what is reality ours or anothers...best to you in the New Year Sam...looking forward to more....bkm

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  53. Fantastic piece! A view of our day where we go about the normal routine while somewhere in the world catastrophe hits. It makes me look at what I do and know there is so much should/can do to make a difference in the world.

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  54. A beautiful rendering of human joy running up against human suffering. May your reverence for griot continue to feed your soul and may the tiny Haitian mushrooms thrive on the hillside once again. I enjoy the strong metaphoric content of the whole piece --most especially the last paragraph!

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  55. "I am tearing off the mushroom stems now, the
    inedible parts, like the pieces of our lives
    we cast off, bury, try to forget, hoping
    that it leaves us more whole. . . ."
    It will be many years before Haiti is healed, and I hope your narrator heals faster than that. This has all the drama of "Like Water, Like Chocolate" with me sitting by helplessly watching the burn with horror streaming down my face. I will return to this poem again and again.

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