I am confused and bewildered in a house whose couches sprawl and sag and whose books give off musty odors as blonde, blue-eyed, white-toothed actresses sit together as on a bus of youth headed towards Pilates, thinking strength and prettiness will gift them the innate poem.
I sit across the room near three older women whose shadowed eyes reflect steel and pain, my eyes travel down to a patchy wood floor. My guts stick together like an old sandwich pressed too hard by the grill.
I feel as if I am in a stew or soup. Jack is the cook, but he isn’t the cook. He is the Chef with a Capital C, with the “Write Like You Talk” recipe. Jack seems hot and fussy as if he’s cooked soup for a long time. He stirs some long leggy carrots recently splayed from their leafy green tops. He pokes, bobbing “hi, I’m fresh from the farm” tomatoes into a plankton shape, and he flicks hot juice at the parsnips who turn into ciphers.
None of us move because we feel like bumpy vegetables.
I feel like a turnip, a rather purplish, solid turnip from New England—purplish on the top and yellow-white inside, but still a turnip—as I tilt away from the Cook. He takes a two-pronged fork and prods the parsnips and carrots again. Then he spears a medium-sized white potato, which grows soft, splits and sort of crumbles.
A zucchini leans into my purple side.
I feel contained and don’t want to go near the Chef or the fork. I want to simmer and bob, when a chunky, juice-dripping piece of beef steams toward the center and waits for the Chef, who lifts up the beef with a slatted wooden spoon, admiring its contours and bursting juices.
He dips the beef back into the soup where all the vegetables get caught up by the juice’s circular movement as the water around me gets browner and chunks of flattened red tomatoes float by and miss his hand which then spears and hauls me up dripping with the soup’s flavors.
He puts me on a slatted spoon and turns me over with a slow, quizzical look. I am still a turnip, but I have become softer, more yellow-orange on the inside, ready to slough off some purple edges. I get put down again near the beef and tomatoes. I move closer to the carrots and the parsnips. We all mix with the broth.
Copyright © Esther Bradley-DeTally
“Writing Soup” is an excerpt from You Carry the Heavy Stuff, which is available at Lulu and Amazon, and directly from the author for $14.95 plus postage. Esther may be contacted via email: estherbill(at)gmail.com.
I teach four six-week classes on writing. My background training is from Oakley Hall, who was majestic novelist and teacher and co-director of Squaw Valley Workshop, and also from Jack Grapes, whose name is whistled in freeway corridors like a slick wind, a pied piper of a writing teacher. Both of these men earn my verbal praise every day. I have traveled from Moscow to Siberia, and to Ukraine, and then returned with my husband to live in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, and Minsk, Belarus. I studied writing methods at UCIrvine, and also took several courses under a superb journalist, Joe Bell.
I teach a class on Tuesdays at The Women’s Room, a place that leaps with great words and giant hearts. The women are either volunteers, homeless or in transition, and it is a great place of support.
On Monday nights, I teach in the basement of Ten Thousand Villages, near California and Lake, from 4:30-6 p.m., for donation. That, plus a few on-line gigs and tutoring gig, plus Baha’i activities and commitment to racial justice, keeps me busy. I have a novel in the second draft process.
Esther has written two books, Without a Net: A Sojourn in Russia and You Carry the Heavy Stuff. Her blog can be found at SorryGnat.wordpress.com.