I realize that the rules at Poetry Thursday are a bit lax, but this week I am stretching them to their limit. Instead of a poem, I have submitted an excerpt from a short story I have been working on forever. The theme this week is food, and I have stuck with that, well sort of, and I really want to share it with some readers. I promise not to be so lazy next week and drop the prose for the more conventional poetry. In my defense, please remember that good prose should be poetic and conjure the same imagery and emotive quality as a well-written poem.
Here is a little haiku about mangos as an appetizer:
saffron robed teardrop
all elbows and soft breast skin
i suck out your juice
Here is an excerpt from the yet untitled story:
One could argue that a vegetarian, who feels the need to butcher a snake and eat its heart, may be a hypocrite. But aren’t we all trumped by our weakness and failures occasionally? How long are we expected to be lead on the leash of our making? How long before the animal inside each one of us is no longer threatened by the vows and rules of morality with which we construct the bars of the cages we trap ourselves in? My cage had become stifling and my mission that night was to finally allow the beast freedom, so I chose to not only open the door wide, but to deconstruct the very idea of the cage I had built. I chose to no longer fight the creature I had spent years subduing. I chose to no longer deny its existence. I chose to surrender.
My actions and experiences, from the time I could remember, had always been crafted into plots, stanzas, and scenes. Something about a vault of stories, deposits in a sense banks made me feel like I was living life the way it should be lived, not with regret or hesitation, but with honesty even if that honesty proved to be illusory. I needed experiences, because I liked the idea that years later, while exchanging small talk with people I detested at cocktail parties I never wanted to attend, I could say that I had eaten a cobra while in Vietnam. This single act would make them realize that there were people in the world living much fuller lives than their own. I lived life for the stories it presented, and for the satisfaction it gave me knowing that I was not only the reader of these stories, but also the writer.
“Do you know a place that serves snake?” I hadn’t heard my voice since the morning, and it sounded foreign, as if it had been initiated from a place outside of myself, and I was merely being used as a conduit to transmit its message. “A restaurant? Snake heart?” After first acting out the beating of a heart beneath my shirt, I then let out a hiss and did my best to slither.
After a few consultations, the price negotiated, and the directions written down, I was on the back of a bike rocketing out of the Old Quarter of Hanoi, and headed across the river, over a bridge to a web of alleys and dissolving streets. With eyes closed, I held out my arms like wings or a crucifixion and smiled.
Once again my quixotic expectations and the actuality of the environment were inconsistent. Where I wanted a sordid space, a den of debauchery, I found a quaint restaurant with a friendly, well-dressed staff. I made my way to a chicken wire pen filled with fifteen cobras and another with pythons. The cobras averaged six feet apiece.
“You choose snake.”
An old man wearing pink faded shorts and nothing else, poked the pile of reptiles, smiling at me through a set of incomplete, blackened teeth. Hopping from side to side like a recently rewarded ape; he seemed pleased that I was there and sharing this experience with him. He gestured for a cigarette furthering our newly formed bond.
“How much are they?’ I asked. With my voice still coming from outside, I did a decent job of corralling a semblance of a reality. I chain-lit another cigarette and examined the snakes, conscious not to get too close because, however disjointed everything had become, I was aware they could kill me.
While driving over on the bridge, I had been content to die, but I was having second thoughts when so close to the very beings that could administer that sentence.
“Cobra, four hundred.” The animated man was holding one by the tail as it swung back and forth like the wooden toy snakes sold in every Chinatown the world over. I took a drag of my smoke and leaned back; the snake was in striking distance. I exhaled a pillow of smoke and pointed to the less sensational pythons entangled in the other pen.
“Three hundred!” He was wielding two snakes, one in each hand.
“I’ll take that one,” I said, pointing to the six-foot cobra inches from my face, “and a beer please.”
From that moment on, the man was all business. The strings that had him bouncing like a puppet were severed, and his smile vanished as he pounced on the snakes head, pinning it to the ground. Brandishing a large rusted knife, he pierced the snake’s smooth skin, deflating it in the process. He made a three-inch incision to its underside into which his fingers disappeared, revealing themselves moments later with a small lump of flesh. It was red, beating, bleeding, alive. The rest of the animal lay on the ground like a discarded sock, a redundant silhouette.
Next, he punctured the dying animal again, this time a bit lower. I was surprised to see him still gripping its head tightly. Was he afraid it could still attack? Even with its beating heart sitting in a bowl near my feet. He emptied the serpent of a green fluid, while showing off his gap filled smile. Comparing the rhythm of the snake heart with my own, it was difficult to tell which one was pounding with more fervor, the muscle thrashing for life, or the hysterical one watching it fail.
A young waiter wearing a crimson bow tie quickly led me upstairs to an empty but pristine dining room. A table was waiting for me: ice cold beer, ashtray, fresh basil, onions, chili peppers and a variety of sauces. Seconds later, the heart and bile were brought to me with an empty shot glass, and another glass filled with a frothy red liquid on the tray. Instructed to put the heart into the bile and shoot it down, I grabbed my chopsticks and attacked it.
It jumped. It was still alive. I tried again and again and again, till I finally had it pinned between my two sticks. Plunging it into the green fluid, I took a sip of water and downed the bile, heart and all. Eating its flesh wrapped in spring rolls, and its skin deep-fried I drank its blood, a warm creamy juice, much like milk. The beast within began to slither from its cage. I was disappearing, and soon it would take over and the Hanoi night would be its playground. The sun had set and darkness enveloped the city.
Author's note: As always any critical comments are appreciated