Voices on the Wind Memorable Voices
YOUR DINNER WITH THE GODDESS: A PROSE POEM by Dick Bakken This young Greek woman invites me over for dinner October 16, 1969. I have already been pierced by those darker eyes and thrilling as we gradually become entangled. Her name is Lelli, a diminutive of Eleni, both variations of Helen. Of course!— that most universal female designator with variations around our world, such as “Elizabeth” in England, with its own myriad variations from “Eliza” to “Lizzie.” Thus what I scrawl in my journal at home later after a seductive dinner.* My libido says follow Lelli’s enticements to the letter. On her firm bed she spreads her cleanest white Greek picnic tablecloth that will enhance our stains and spills, upon which we loll as our eyes sear over glasses of ouzo. We can hear two bubbly artichokes bounce under a china plate holding them down drowning, with a snug lid to ensure maximum steam. Soon we are kissing, soon she is sliding my hands through slits in her translucent gown over misty breasts and thighs for a pulsing little spell of ecstasy— Because suddenly she rises to throw open the bedside window for a rush of night air as she breezes into her kitchen without giving leave for that usual rinsing of hands. O carefully she lifts each plate and bowl from tray to bed and tosses those wooden thunks to a nearby easy chair. The fresh cooled goat milk must be served in bowls that will bring both hands to the face, the butter only partly melted into olive oil in its own bowl at the center, beside it an empty one for all the stripped leaves, with no mind to those missing the lip or fallen from it. And it is only after the supping and biting and pulling have been completed with duration and slops and laughter that she rolls to scatter it all startling to the floor as she glides onto me. This, my friends, is Artichoke Arousal as I learned it from a master, who had probably never heard New York chef Mario Batali lisp so famously, “Fresh pasta cooked in butter swells like a woman aroused,” but knew in her gut that food and love are so deliriously intertwined that you always alert the highest gods by serving both together. Ho! none of that was Greek to her. Artichoke Arousal with Ouzo and Goat Milk 2 medium artichokes a tablespoon of salt 2 full bowls chilled goat milk haphazard slabs (not a stick) of butter in a good slop of virgin olive oil a chilled bottle of Greek-brand ouzu an empty ceramic or wooden bowl for discards Set rinsed and trimmed artichokes into a large pot of rapidly boiling water. It doesn’t matter how they are placed in pot since artichokes float when cooking, but in enough water to cover, one or two china plates holding them under, with a snug lid over all, the desire, to get those petals so wet and slippery while your hands slide over a lover. If you have no china that fits, set a smaller pot lid directly over artichokes to push them underwater. Cover pot with its own lid and let artichokes boil at high simmer until they are tender. Steaming fresh artichokes retains vitamins and nutrients that can be lost by boiling, but you also lose that urgent, evocative bounce and rattle of lids while you explore each other on the bed. Cooking time varies for either method, depending on size of artichokes, approximation for either is 30 minutes for a medium, 45 for a jumbo. If a sharp knife slips through easily (similar to a baked potato), artichokes are lusciously cooked, ready to lavish. Start pulling off those outermost petals. Dip base of petals into your shared oily butter. Pull petals through slightly clenched teeth to remove that soft, tender flesh at the bottoms. Toss remainders (you’ll want to have an empty glinting bowl ready in which to drop them). Devour until all petals have been stripped, to that greatest culinary reward— the heart! If the fuzzy choke guarding a heart hasn’t been thrown, scoop it out with your spoon. Slice heart into bite-size savors— dip, dip, sip, slip, slurp, lick, laugh, swill, and enjoy. Artichoke petals (but not hearts) contain cynarin acid, as do asparagus and green beans, that turns wine in your mouth to taste sweet, even saccharin. So fair warning to wine obsessives and snobs: definitely not red, advisedly not white either. Thus the ouzu, a good Greek brand if possible, not in goblets like wine—where you do want the nose, but not ouzu’s inebriating fumes (ouzu 40% alcohol). Pour chilled into small table glasses, served neat (ice will create unsightly crystals on the surface of your drink—“the ouzu effect”), sipping cautiously since ouzu also has high sugar content that delays release of alcohol into your lifted system, the dizzied effects of ouzu sneaking up on you faster than your sumptuous love-pacing. This will be the moment upon which Lelli laughs out that customary toast—alerting the Goddess— stin uyeia sou (steen ee-YEE-ah soo)— To your health! Late that night with your paramour slumbering beside, gazing into that face that will launch a thousand shipwrecks**, or next morning preferably yet in bed, you will scrawl your poem. Use jet-black India ink on high white vellum. Don’t disrespect and diminish our Goddess with ballpoint. *The poem I scrawled in my journal later that night—“My Fingers”—is published in Voices on the Wind: Voices on “Union,” #35, Fall 2008. **This original October ’69 tryst transpired in Portland, Oregon, in a downtown second-story apartment overlooking Port of Portland’s international marine terminals, where foreign ships dock, such as those laden with imports from Greece.