by Zoe Davis | December 21, 2022
Walking home from dinner last night,
A party thrown by our friend,
Five courses to celebrate the end
Of a five-month divorce,
I asked you what your favourite dish was.
Me, I said, I’m stuck between the starter –
Frisée leaves supporting
The meat of a blue king crab
Razor thin chives and strips of lemon zest
All balanced on top:
Acrobatics for an appetizer –
And that dessert.
Do you think you could get the recipe from her
For that dessert?
In the dark evening light
I could just make out the shadow of your pursed lips
And wondered if complimenting a divorcée’s dessert
Was bordering on tactless.
You forced a smile.
It was wonderful, you agreed,
Delicious, scrumptious, everything and more.
If I had to choose –
And the way you said it was like a branch breaking –
It would just about be what I would have
For my last meal on Earth.
You let go of my hand
And let the night air fill the space between us.
And although I kept silent, I still want you to know
That when the last meal comes,
It’s not the garnishes I’ll remember.
The pesce spada of our honeymoon.
That month we passed through Italy,
From the fast-paced north to the languorous south,
Looking up at the sun-dripped skies
Criss-crossed with clotheslines.
A seafood restaurant – a boat ride out from Naples.
We paid a man with a dinghy to drive us out,
The white motorboat skirting close enough to vacationing yachts
So that we felt drowned in luxury.
The menu was all in Italian,
And I was flustered, especially in front of you –
Your rose-flushed face that I still saw underneath the wedding veil.
A neighbouring customer leaned over from the table next to us,
The swordfish, he whispered.
Pesce spada, the waiter confirmed.
It came out with a wedge of lemon, a ribbon
Of darker muscle fluttering down its thick edge,
A cacophony of vegetables serving as orchestral accompaniment.
The waiter handed me a serving spoon
And I cut you a handsome portion.
I watched you take a piece before I had any:
You slipped the fork into your mouth,
Engulfed the flaky meat in one bite,
The neighbouring customer winked at me.
The waiter gave me a nod.
Please, you said,
Gesturing at the remaining fish between us,
A piece with the olive.
Your mother’s minestrone.
Labor Day weekend: we arrived late that Friday night.
Driven back by a storm, we walked through the door, drenched
Clothes clinging to skin, and your mother clung to your arm.
Frantic, she didn’t notice the water pooling at our feet
Because her only thought was food.
There was nothing, she lamented,
The remains of her dinner long soaking in the sink.
You tried to tell her we weren’t hungry, and it would’ve been convincing
If the woman hadn’t raised you.
Throwing open cabinets and drawers,
She was embarrassed by the emptiness –
A mother out of practice.
Until her mind pounced on the vegetables she’d picked that morning
From the garden out back.
A wicker basket was hefted into the kitchen,
The late summer cornucopia.
Like a general, she ordered us into an assembly line,
You chopping the eggplant,
Me peeling the carrots,
Sheaths of orange pushed aside for the trash,
Only to be saved by your mother’s deft hands.
For stock, you and your mother said in sync,
And it was then that I saw where you came from,
Perhaps for the first time.
The vegetables were put to simmer in a pot,
And I watched mother and daughter work in tandem.
She grabbed the olive oil,
You the salt,
A pinch between thumb and forefinger,
A long glug streamed from above.
All it needs, the two reassured me,
When it’s garden fresh.
This is all it needs.
But then your eyebrows shot up,
A self-satisfied look of alarm.
We were missing one ingredient, and you tore to the pantry,
Returning with two bay leaves.
Dropped into the pot, they skimmed there across the surface,
Lost sailors in a vegetal sea.
Trust me, you said, the bay leaves themselves,
they don’t have much taste.
But when it’s all put together,
Let’s just say – if they weren’t there,
And not long after that,
When I sat at your childhood table,
And you spooned the soup into a bowl,
And I sipped it,
In that cavernous living room, minutes to midnight,
All but us and the crickets asleep,
I thought there’s nothing I’d less like to know,
Than what this all would be like,
Without you here.
The night of the izakaya’s opening.
A trendy Japanese spot in the Lower East Side.
The chef’s famous, you’d told me weeks ago,
Letting me know with a tilt of the head
That it was now up to me
To snag a reservation.
Walking into the restaurant, we were surrounded by twenty-somethings.
In knee-high leather boots, at least five sunglasses
Currently being worn indoors.
Pete Wells is somewhere here,
A goateed man confidently told his date,
His left shirtsleeve pushed up to reveal a tattooed pair of chopsticks.
I felt my knees ache there,
I felt my hair thin there,
And you looked down at your grey linen skirt,
Ran your hands up and over it in an attempt
To iron out the wrinkles.
When we were finally seated, it was at a table near the door –
Not the sushi bar I’d requested.
But with a sideways glance you told me not to make a fuss,
So we waited there an hour,
The opening and closing entrance letting in frequent bursts of January air.
You shivered: I gave you my jacket
And you bashfully took it –
The old couple’s brief return to prom date flirtations.
It was another half-hour until a waiter finally came.
He asked us if we’d enjoyed our meal,
And I realised he thought we were waiting for the cheque.
A rush of blood beelined for my face,
A vein in my temple pulsed,
But you reached across the table,
Took both my hands into your own steady pair.
We’ve had a lovely meal, you said,
And that wink in your smile,
The warm embrace of your hands,
Convinced me you were telling the truth.
For my last meal I want to be submerged headfirst:
A baptism of first bites,
A lamentation of last ones.
To emerge breathless,
To be neither sated nor starving –
From my gut a constant stream
Of unwavering desire.
I want all the tastes and splendours of the world
To cascade miraculously on my tongue:
Not particularly god-given, but not particularly not.
I want to ascend into the sublime
As easily as a knife cuts through cake.
As easily as bread rises in the oven.
As easily as the dinner gets made
When you sit there at the kitchen counter
And read the recipe out loud
Run my tongue along the edge of the knife,
Drag my finger along the rim of the bowl.
If I never bring this fork to my mouth again,
Then I want even this final bite
To feel no different from the first.
I promise not to leave the table
Until my plate shines clean.
For my last meal on Earth
let me swallow you whole. ∎
Words by Zoe Davis. Art by Louis Rush.