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Poetry by Toby Leah Bochan


Stone Soup


You know the story: Everyone puts something in the pot.

Something from nothing. A stone and some water

in a great iron kettle. Then a hambone from the cobbler.

Of course you are the stone and I am the water. Why not?

You are steady, a constant.

I was going to write a sestina. A long rambling thing

using the six words: water, pot, spoon.

Right, I only had three.

Sometimes I feel I am that kid with the pot

on his head, banging it with a wooden spoon.

Water because it shakes, rattles, and rolls--

Also: because it runs hot and cold.

I was going to put something about smoking pot--

Maybe that night I didnít cry in bed.

You told me I wanted everything to be settled.

I told myself, settle down, settle down.

It was bedtime. I expected stories.

Form of an ocean. Shape of a mermaid.

Maybe also youíre that big stone, the moon

A big cold light in the sky that pulls

Iím teasing. The story before: the one about helping

each other. Thatís what I want you to remember.

Throw everything in or get out while you can.

Iím in chest-deep. Now the water is boiling.




"Itís time for you to stop trying to be so smart."
-Suzanne Wise, Advice


Itís time for you to listen to advice before

Dismissing it. If you must intellectualize, consider

The flaws of the fleshy brain, its myriad fissures, the dust

In the crevices, vital details folding themselves with rust.

Itís time to throw away thoughts of thoughts-- the pyramids

Built into the air of words. Time to look up instead.

The sky will never be the same again.

Time to make the donuts, even if you donít eat them,

Make them for the smell, for the yield of dough, for others.

Watch the children pick sweets by color.

How they grab at simple joys, handfuls of wishes. You

Wish you could map each curve of life against life, plot

To the end points, predetermine failure. Do you think it helps to

Know the names for the stages of grief? Coward, it does not.




Futurist post-heartbreak dinner:


A solo meal, to be served while the heartbreak is still fresh. The heartbroken is lead into a small room where she sits naked at a dark aubergine velvet chair at a black marble table lit by a small lantern of colored glass. In the lantern, a candle containing the scent of cool church stones burns. There she is given a tiny vial of warm cognac and a golden mosquito net is drawn around her. Already at the table, there is a hot towel infused with lavender to soothe the chapped skin of the heartbroken. After listening to several poems by Louise Glück read in a melodious female voice, the curtains are barely parted to allow the Lovebirds post Tartar to be served.

Lovebirds post Tartar: A tiny quail, head still attached and tucked underneath one tiny wing, is crusted with pure sea salt, sprayed with lemon juice squeezed by hand straight from a whole ripe Meyer lemon, and bound with whole branches of rosemary. The bird is then wrapped and roasted in a clay oven in last yearís yellowed newspaper on which old love poems are written in blue ink in Latin. It is then placed on a bamboo plate and unwrapped, so that the quailís head may be raised and a single pomegranate seed may be placed in the beak of the quail, which will crush it when the head is replaced under the wing, causing a single red drop of juice to run down to the paper. To be eaten with the fingers, with the sound of rain on a tin roof.

After the heartbroken has tasted the Lovebirds post Tartar, a slender woman oiled with the finest virgin olive oils and wearing a thin cotton robe one shade lighter than the sky takes the heartbroken outside for the Antipasto Interlude.

Antipasto interlude: while walking outside, a single coffee bean is chewed, followed by a rough mint leaf, one raw chanterelle mushroom. A piece of maple sugar candy in the shape of a ring is placed on the heartbrokenís tongue to melt. Finally they drink a palmful of water from a cold green lake.

When the Antipasto Interlude has renewed the senses of the heartbroken, she is led into another room where she will find Dessert of exquisite remorse already waiting for her.

Dessert of exquisite remorse: to be eaten alone. A long knifesliver of bitter unsweetened chocolate is placed against a black plate. This is buried under four whole but peeled blood oranges which have been soaked overnight in a tin bucket, outside by a waxing moon in red wine at least a decade old. Scatter the plate with crystallized baby's breath and one perfect boat of endive, not to be eaten. Before serving this dish on a heavy table set with raw ivory silk and two chairs, spill a thimbleful of the best champagne, a thimbleful of black truffle oil, and a thimbleful of a paste of saffron and red caviar in front of the one chair which will remain empty. Open the windows and let in the smell of the rain from the west. A single sustained and trembling note is played on a cello, which will stop the moment the first bite is taken.

The heartbroken will be unable to eat more than the first bite of the dessert in the silence, and quickly she is served, by a young child with bells on her ankles, a second small salad of hope. A fire is lit, into which all sorts of powders are thrown, to cause the fire to blaze in chartreuse and magenta and turquoise hues.

Second small salad of hope: A whole heart of romaine lettuce, very cold and stood on end in a mound made of a fist of crushed raspberries, shredded radicchio and 9 long flat curls of parmesan cheese. Atop the tower of romaine, one purple and yellow edible pansy is placed.

The dinner is over when the salad is eaten, if ever.




American Beauty


What is it to call blood roses, to give

a flower the ability to be riotous,

agitated, as if the daffodils lined

in front of my house were not

simply planted but protesting

ready to throw the nearby bed

of rocks through my window?

What is it to give the dewy drops

wrung from the necks of honeysuckle

the power to grant wishes, to hate

the jacarandaís panicles of pale purple flowers

for the memory they bring?

Is this poetry? To see the way a tree bends

towards the light as greed

instead of survival, to attribute the green

of a leaf to envy instead of chlorophyll?

Is there so much pain

in us that we must push it off, force

it onto the thorns and brambles and still

have more, so we hide our fears

under thin petals--

Poor roses, who want only,

like children

to flourish in the sun--




About the Author

After having her speaking role in SNL's Gumby's Christmas sketch stolen by "The Orange Juice Girl," Toby Leah Bochan gave up on acting and started writing instead, where she "does the juicing, if you know what I mean." Her poems have appeared in places such as The Red River Review, Ellipsis and The Threepenny Review and are forthcoming in Quarterly West, The Beloit Poetry Journal and online at Aileron. You can reach this New York City girl at nycgirl@rocketmail.com