Over the holidays, a friend was using a new paring knife while making dinner and cut three of her fingers and a thumb. Merry Christmas. Once, when I was a cook, I almost sliced off the top of my left index finger right through the nail cutting scallions with a sharpened knife while giving instructions to the dish washer. I’d always fancied myself a good cook who didn’t have to look when slicing, but that freshly honed knife taught me a lesson. As much as possible, look (especially in a kitchen). I was the prep and sometimes line chef at a little lovely haute cuisine place in Gramercy Park called EF Barrett and Company. The restaurant’s doctor, whose office was a couple of blocks away on 5th Avenue, told me that, before he could clean, sew, bandage and send me back to work again, he would have to pull out the rest of the nail, still firmly attached to the cuticle, first.
Before he began, did I want a shot of Novocaine? The top of my finger dangled waiting for my decision. I remembered my other kitchen accident opening a can of tuna, slicing my right index finger deeply through the fingerprint. The shot of Novocaine then before the stitching had hurt so much, like a sudden gigantic bee sting, I decided now to let the doctor pull the nail out. I’d skip the numbing. What the heck. Pulling or shooting would last about the same amount of time, hurt either way, and writer that I am, here was the chance to find out what having a fingernail pulled out felt like. Nothing would be left to the imagination.
It was April 1980. Poor Jimmy Carter. The helicopter had just gone down in the desert on the way to rescue the Iranian hostages, and the doctor was really mad at him. As he damned the president and pulled out my nail, he smoked a cigarette, a Camel without a filter at the side of his mouth, smoke squinting his eyes and impairing his vision as I watched his jiggling jowls, because he truly was obese as well, and kind of leaned all of his weight onto (into) my hand as he pulled with his pliers and heavily breathed.
The pain was heavy, more pressure than burning, like a visible thud I watched pulled out of me from one little spot that made me feel for a moment like all of me was being squashed. A little discoloration remains in the nail, a thin fissure of white where my finger once dangled almost in two. I remember the doctor was so mad at Jimmy Carter, I thought it might affect my finger’s well-being. Now the unhealthy doctor most likely is dead and Jimmy, thank goodness, is still with us. I’m sure President Obama thought long and hard about Jimmy Carter before he decided to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011. During the 2012 election, I saw someone out there somewhere in America wearing a t-shirt that read: “If I want to vote for the man who killed Osama bin Laden, I’ll vote for a Navy SEAL.” A willfully stupid hypocrite; you better believe the t-shirt right wingers would be blaming Obama now, and not a SEAL, if it had been a disaster and bin Laden were still living.
Happy New Year everyone. Count your blessings. Barack Obama won. Wheew! I hope this year is a good one, health and happiness. In 2012 I was trying to do so many things, I think I wound up doing nothing. In 2013 I will try to do nothing and see where that leads. The writer Peter Cherches suggests that I stop trying to do and just do and that may be it: no trying just doing in 2013.
New Year’s Day I performed with my nephew Daniel at the Poetry Project benefit. We hadn’t really rehearsed and sat down to practice a few hours before going on. Both of us were playing guitar, but it was hard keeping in sync, and I play such a sloppy F Chord when changing from the G, that we decided last minute that I would just sing. Self doubt is such a funny thing; well, not funny, but like a shadow it is often there even when it’s not, ready to appear. But you can’t listen to that voice. Walk on, get from one end to the other, and hope there is some applause when it’s over.
I am going to end with a sonnet. I started writing them in 2003. I’m not so strict (I haven’t really studied) with meter etcetera but I do keep to fourteen lines, try to think in iambic pentameter, often rhyme and end with couplets just like Shakespeare. I capitalize the first word in each line to help remind me what I’m doing, though I know this bothers some people a lot. Someone could argue, “You don’t follow the octave, sestet pattern, so why capitalize?” One day when a blesséd soul out there publishes my sonnets, I may change some things. Right now I am keeping the capitals.
What is a sonnet? I like what Rossetti says:
A Sonnet is a moment’s monument,—
Memorial from the Soul’s eternity
To one dead, deathless hour.
I wrote this one on New Year’s Day 2004 in the South Mountain after a walk in the woods in PA. I was reading Noticia de un Sequestro by Gabriel García Márquez, one heck of a read I can’t recommend enough.
I’m happy when the day begins and I’m
Happy when it ends. I like to wake up
And start again and I like to sleep. Does
This mean I’ll be happy dead or alive?
The morning sun shines warmly on my head
Through the cold window. I’m reading a book.
People get kidnapped, kidnappers wear hoods.
It’s tense and sad, by García Márquez
Interspersed with a few ironic laughs.
Shadows of ladybugs move on the page
Elongate words, cast from the windowpane
Where they really crawl. An old lady has
To be taken out and shot. I could cry
As the year’s trespassed by the new and flies.
Buddha by Akram
Akram in the snow
Winter water spiders
Akram drying out