chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: November 2010


Gloria rinsed her fingertips and dabbed them on her apron to dry. Birthday cake, she focused. Candles. Well, no, she didn’t have birthday candles. Only a partially-used box of Hanukkah candles, which might do, and a bag of white utility candles, for emergencies, which might not. She peered into the makeshift double boiler, where blocks of chocolate were melting in a slow swirl of butter. Actually, maybe she did have birthday candles, she thought, remembering and pulling down a small box marked Candles from the cupboard above the refrigerator. There was her mother’s copper candle snuffer, the long-handled chrome snuffer she had bought when she had given up looking for her mother’s, a cellophane bag of tapers in various colors, and a small box with 12 remaining birthday candles. She could work with 12, she thought, imagining the conflagration that might be her own birthday cake, her face heating with embarrassment at the knowledge she’d never be able to blow them out, with the lifelong fear of spitting on everyone, of blowing her bad breath across the room. Twelve would be fine for Marlie.

She measured out the flour, baking powder, salt, and glanced at the four sunny, glistening eggs in the blue bowl. She could hear her mother calling Taffy! and the cocker spaniel clicking across the kitchen floor to lick up an egg. It was a bit of a joke with them and once or twice her mother had even staged an accidental egg drop just to watch Taffy’s little stub of tail twitch with happiness as she lapped up the mess. For years, long after Taffy’s mysterious disappearance from the front stoop, they would say Where’s Taffy? any time a bit of food fell on the floor…

trying to write…6

But how, she wonders, do you make an elephant?

The best way is to start with a pair of elephants. But if you don’t have a pair of elephants, or even one, you might have to make an elephant costume for your favorite chair, or your dog, or even yourself. Or you could trumpet pachydramatically and hope that one passing will hear. You could leave a tempting trail of peanuts and hay and tender branches from African trees. You could try praying.

But no, she realized, the only way is to be an elephant surrogate—to offer yourself to the muse, to plant the seed, to struggle through an unwieldy pregnancy and to split yourself open, elephant mother to a wrinkled newborn.

She twitched and crossed her legs and rubbed the soft round bulge of her belly. She pictured herself lumbering across the room behind a gigantic middle. Her womb ached. She was afraid. Not of the elephant, not of the pain or the awkwardness. She was afraid that after all of it she’d birth a hyena. Or worse, a fairy princess.

Okay muse, she mused, I’m here. I’m afraid, but I’m ready. Let’s make an elephant.

      ~ trying to write…7

trying to write…5

A trail of little yellow sticky notes leads toward the desk, each one blank, an invitation to a word. Pens and pencils are dropped alongside the trail, crumbs.

But, she thinks, the problem here is not words; it’s ideas. It’s true of course. The words are already here. But I’ve been acting as if I merely had lure them, give them a little exercise, then pile and quilt and stitch and stir them, and by some alchemy, they would reveal their substance. “I’ve mistaken hamsters for elephants,” she thinks.

The hamsters crowd around her ankles, worrying their whiskers over the little yellow slips of paper, testing the wooden pencils with their teeth. They’re distracting, cute. This has always been the problem, she muses. Mistaking form for content. Making pretty things. Ouch.

But how, she wonders, do you make an elephant?

      ~ trying to write…6

trying to write…4

The words heaped in the blue glass bowl. Not last Halloween’s leftover words, but dense, chocolaty, handmade truffles and melt-in-your-mouth caramels, tiny mints, intense and hard as pebbles, and chewy slices of sugared ginger. She sipped her coffee and reached her hand toward the bowl, leaning slightly, then nearly tumbling forward as, by some illusion, the words, and the bowl, and the table receded into the distance of deep perspective.

Shaken, she sat up and considered the bowl, which was right where it had been all along. And then she noticed that a single word was lying on the table, outside the bowl, just inches from her fingers. Cautious now, she extended her hand and picked it up. It was small and colorless, nibbled a bit at the edges, dust caught in the minute cracks between its folded contours. One word: the. As tasteless and bland and wilted as a bit of old cardboard, it lay on her palm, the muse’s offering.

     next ~ trying to write 5


Concordance of the Unknown ~ I

What she did was only what millions have done: gather scant provisions, bundle the children in layers of warmth, and set out across the frost-crisp winter landscape toward the unknown. Did she lock the door behind her? Did other villagers appear alongside the cart, the white steam of their breath concealing tears? Did they bring baskets stuffed with pastries and sausages and set them at her side so the aroma of home would linger through those first hard miles? Did they pull from their pockets letters and photographs scrawled with memories and assurances, pressing them into her hands, pleading that she carry them, talismans of hope? Did they give her a coin to slip into her shoe or a scarf with a bit of gold stitched into the hem? Did they urge upon her one more blanket—for the little ones!—one more woolen coat? When the old horse had taken the first difficult steps, squaring the weight of the cart behind her, did they stand together, shoulders touching, watching her draw away down the familiar track? Did they wave again and again at the children, smiling and calling, until the cart had rounded the curve in the road and disappeared? . . .

trying to write…3

She sat at her desk—her park bench—waiting. The words would be along, sooner or later, if she was patient. If she showed the right signs, the willingness, the readiness, the availability. She just needed to be there to receive them, to transmit them, when the words arrived. She never understood how they would find her, or recognize her, or choose her—why they wouldn’t stop for another writer and leave her mute.

She wasn’t patient, though. She fidgeted. She stared out the window, looked at the contours of the veins on the back of her hands. She drank coffee and thought about the day’s work, the weekend, unfinished projects.

Where were the words? How would she recognize them? What if they were disguised? Showed up looking like a phone conversation or a letter? She needed a lure, a word-pheromone. But of course this was the pheromone, she thought. This sitting, pecking at the keys, leaving a trail of crumbs and bits that the words could follow: a lifeline of phrases, sentences, paragraphs to sustain the words as they found their way back to her.

      ~ trying to write…4

trying to write…2

Waiting again for the circus train, the lumbering trucks, the shuffling clowns, the cage carts with their pacing tigers, and, of course, the elephants. Steps muffled by the snow, they will leave deep shadowed wells as they lift and plant each foot in the unmarked whiteness. I clear the yard for their striped tent, string the guy wires, assemble the ranks of bleachers and sweep the mud from beneath the raised tent flap. But it isn’t tricks I want. No standing on massive haunches, no balancing ballerinas on curled trunks, no rolling of logs or tossing of dogs. Just one gracious gray elephant to stand, solid and true, in the quiet heart of the morning. One real thing. One idea.

      ~ trying to write…3

trying to write…1

Words chop onto the page, graceless, chilly, distracted.

Start over. Begin something else. Begin. Shake the blanked mind for the kernels that didn’t pop. Spill something else onto the page: a situation, a character, a word, an elephant. Leave it there. Go on. Work it. I walk to the door, put my hand on the knob, turn it, then let go, turn away. Go through the door. Go through the door.

     ~ trying to write…2

dawning… a beginning…

Babydoll sky, fragile pinks, white lace edging, palest blue, soon absorbed into the cottony gray. Snow lingering in the clearcut slash above the neighbor’s roof, a few shaggy heaps and slushy bogs along the road. In the window I see through the window, through the scrim of reflected tree branches, the suggestion of dawn gathers along the ridge. A gull, wings barely moving, carves a furrow across the gray sky and then through the slightly coloring reflection. Another swoops in, is suddenly blown sideways directly toward me, then, with a flap, rights himself and flies on. More gulls, crows, intent on their journey north or south or dipping wing into huge circling loops, down, around, up, and then onward.

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