In the tradition of Señora Ortega’s own madre, la cocina was a place of teaching — about food, about life, about being a woman, about being human.
Her fate was set when she fell under the spell of his kind eyes and bigger than life personality. For his part, he loved her gentle ways, the fluid dance of her hands at work, the sensual swing of her hips as she walked to the market with basket in hand.
And so it happened that in 1948, with her father’s permission and her mother’s tears, they were wed in the old adobe iglesia where uncounted generations of her family had been married before her. Not many months after the wedding, she kissed her parents and siblings goodbye, took a long loving look at her village, and followed her new husband north to los Estados Unidos de América. She was already pregnant with Clarita.
Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZineand its associated activities and The Poet by Dayjamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for permissions, commissions, or assignments.
“Brooklyn was a dream. All the things that happened there just couldn’t happen. It was all dream stuff. Or was it all real and true and was it that she, Francie, was the dreamer?” Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
At that time, we lived along a treeless street around the corner from the Li’s Chinese Laundry and Saul’s Jewish Deli and a five-minute walk from the neighborhood public school. I used to play with Ju Li on hot summer days when we’d pool our found pennies to buy a giant 5-cent Kosher pickle from Mr. Saul Levy and his wife. The pickles were cold, wet and salty. They were more invigorating than ice cream when the air was humid and temperature hit three-digits.
Eating with Ju was one of my favorite pastimes. I was enamored of the mischievous sparks that shot from the depths of her eyes, especially when it came to Kosher pickles. “Āiya! For once …” she was eating something that didn’t originate in her mom’s kitchen or the school cafeteria.
The Li’s lived above their laundry. Sometimes after school her mom would give us oolong tea and red bean cakes. Ju regularly complained about her mother’s cooking. “Always with the rice,” she’d say, mimicking Mrs. Levy’s manner of speaking. Ju said that to be fully “Americanized” you’d need to eat lots of potatoes: baked, stuffed, fried, or mashed. If Ju was to be believed, Mrs. Li never made potatoes and cooked pork almost as often as she cooked chicken. Mrs. Levy never cooked pork but she roasted beef in an oversized oven and it was known throughout the neighborhood that her potato knishes were to die for.
Occasionally on Friday when school let out, Mrs. Levy would call to us before sunset and Shabbas and invite us in to eat with Moshe, her eight-year-old son. At school and whenever his parents weren’t around, we called him Moose, which he much preferred. Moose wanted to be a baseball player, but I think the Levy’s had other plans for him.
Mrs. Levy would serve us a roasted beef sandwich, half for each of us along with half a potato knish, a slice of pickle, and a glass of creme soda. My mom would have been upset to know I ate meat on Friday, but I didn’t think Jesus would begrudge me such a meal. After we finished eating, she would close the deli. “Have a good rest,” we’d say politely as we left. “From your lips to God’s ears,” was Mrs. Levy’s inevitable response.
As for my own mom’s cooking, I should first explain that mySidto, my mother’s mother, was the cook in the family. She and my mom were mad at each other and hadn’t spoken since I was five or six. I do remember though that like Mrs. Li my Sidto was also “always with the rice,” which was typical for a Lebanese. I remember her bottomless pots of chicken-rice soup scented with cinnamon and carefully ladled into small bowls with pink roses on them. I remember her knobby fingers fussing over stuffed grape leaves and kibby, ground meat mixed with cracked wheat, onions, and seasonings. I remember Sidto’s tart yogurt in quart-sized Mason jars. She’d wrap the jars in a Navy surplus blanket and set them by the dining room radiator to ferment.
At my house we had bakery-bought ghreybah, Lebanese butter cookies, or chocolate chip cookies from Safeway, usually on a Saturday afternoon when my mom was home from work. Once my mom invited Ju for dinner but one look at our frozen dinners and Ju went home to her rice.
In fairness to my mother, I don’t want to give the impression that she didn’t cook. She did! She made tea with honey and buttered Wonder Bread with cinnamon sugar for breakfast. She prepared packaged chicken noodle soup with sandwiches of cream cheese and orange marmalade for lunch. She made good spaghetti – perfectly al dente – with canned marinara sauce that she topped with cheese dust that came in little green containers. She was great at baking those frozen dinners without burning them. Sometimes she’d make lamb chops in a pressure cooker with potatoes and carrots. There were three seasonings in her cabinet: salt, pepper, and allspice. I’m not sure why the latter. I don’t think Mom ever used it. Throughout my childhood the tin sat untouched, growing greasy brown pimples and collecting miniature dust bunnies. Though I gave Mom credit for what she could and did do, I figured that if I had to live with my mother’s rather stunted culinary repertoire, I better learn to cook in self-defense.
In those days, I only ate tidbits. Nonetheless, food had a habit of drifting through my imagination and my dreams: roasting beef a la Mrs. Levy, making chicken soup like my Sidto, and cooking the exotic Chinese dishes I imagined Mrs. Li did. Āiya! What, I wondered, were thousand-year eggs and bird’s nest soup? I prayed out loud from my lips to the Jewish God’s ears, silently at Mass on Sunday to Jesus and Mary, and in bed at night I whispered to Ju’s mysterious Buddha. I need to learn to cook, I told them. Please!
Then, early one September when I was nine, hope arrived in the person of Ju. She came around to our apartment with our first invitation to dinner at her place. It was for Sunday. The dinner would be to celebrate her parents’ newly acquired citizenship, but really it was all about me. I could think of nothing but watching Mrs. Li cook so I could steal her culinary magic. Her English was poor and I didn’t speak Cantonese but in our melting-pot world we were skilled at listening for the few words here and there that we might understand, watching facial expressions, hand gestures and body language, and taking context into account. In this way, we managed to communicate across cultures. And, well, you know, food has a way of speaking on its own. Sights and smells. Sizzle and crackle.
On our way home from noon Mass that Sunday, Mom picked up a congratulations card and a tray of baklava for us to take to the Li’s. At Mass, my mind had already eloped somewhere with bird’s nests and thousand-year eggs, but as we climbed the Li’s stairs, I was startled out of my imaginings. I shot a questioning glance at my mother. Something was wrong. No scent. No scent! No cooking? Slowly, I trudged the rest of the way. We were met at the landing by Mr. and Mrs. Li’s big smiles and warm welcome with their arms outstretched and ready hugs for me. They were nodding their heads, proudly drawing us inside to see a room filled with neighbors and relatives and a “real American dinner.” There were sandwiches and salads – potato and macaroni – and a platter piled high with knishes from the Levy’s. A fruit bowl and two apple pies sat at the end of the table and a punch bowl and glasses were on the kitchen counter next to a bowl of fortune cookies.
Ju ran up to me. “Do you believe it? Potatoes! Potatoes in the Li household.” Moose caught my eye, nodding at me from around the end of the buffet, munching on one of his mom’s knishes. He eyed the salads with longing but didn’t dare touch any with his parents there. The salads were probably from Mr. Bjornstad’s. He was given to putting smoky bacon in almost everything. He said it was his signature touch.
Mr. Li was calling to us. “More news,” he said, pulling Ju next to him. He patted her head. “Now better known as Judy.” Well, I thought, so much for Thousand-year Eggs and Birds’ Nest Soup, but how could I begrudge my friend her happiness. There she stood with her mouth full of potato salad, a new American name, and stars in her eyes. Well, I thought, somewhat dejected on my own account until my eyes landed on Mrs. Levy. Schmatz and gribenes. Chopped chicken livers. Potato knishes to die for. Prayers began afresh from my lips to the Jewish God’s ears, silently at Mass on Sunday to Jesus and Mary, and in bed at night I whispered to Ju’s mysterious Buddha. I need to learn to cook, I told them. Please!
A busy though bed-bound poet, writer, former columnist and the former associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Levure littéraire, Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, HerStry, Connotation Press,The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, Woven Tale Press, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers. I founded The Bardo Group/Beguines, a virtual literary community and publisher of The BeZine of which I am the founding and managing editor. Among others, I’ve been featured on The MethoBlog, on the Plumb Tree’s Wednesday Poet’s Corner, and several times as Second Light Live featured poet.
Email me at email@example.com for permissions, reprint rights, or comissions.
“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton
Thank you for sharing your love of words. Comments will appear after moderation.
“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…” Stephen King
Thursday evening eight San Francisco Bay Area horror authors read samples of their stories (and poems, Sumiko Saulson) for the San Mateo Library Second Annual Tales of Horror, which was organized by author, artist and speaker Emerian Rich in collaboration with members of Horror Addicts.net and library staff. What a fun way to kick-off Halloween celebrations. Horror is not my genre but I find it a good occasional escape and certainly so at this time of year.
The evening was dominated by welcome and expected thrills and chills and more than a soupçon of laughter and sweet treats. I venture to say, it was enjoyed by all, fans and authors.
If you are reading this in an email subscription, you’ll probably have to link through to the site to view the slide show included here:
We writers tend to be introverts, often resistant to the necessary survival skills of self-promotion and marketing. It’s always interesting to me to see how other writers are marketing themselves: imaginative business cards, fanciful post cards, small bound copies of an excerpt from a chapbook (Loren Rhodes), and little bags of Halloween tchotchkes along with a business card (Sumiko Saulson). Take note in the interview below: Emerian Rich leaves time in her schedule for marketing. Bravo!
EMERIAN RICH (The Official Website of Emerian Rich) is the author of the vampire book series, Night’s Knights. She also writes the Sweet Dreams Musical Romance Series under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal. Her novel, Artistic License, mixes both horror and romance. She’s been published in anthologies by publishers such as Dragon Moon Press, Hidden Thoughts Press, Hazardous Press, and White Wolf Press. Emerian is the podcast horror hostess of HorrorAddicts.net. She is the Editorial Director for the San Francisco Bay Area based magazine, SEARCH.
JAMIE: Have you always written in this genre and what is the attraction for you … and for readers?
EMERIAN: I have written in many genres. I love Horror because it just has a special calling to me. It’s like the whisper of a ghost in the hallways of my soul. I also write Romance under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal. I have a New Adult series called Sweet Dreams Musical Romance and I have a few Regency Romances out as well as a modern rewrite of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey coming soon.
JAMIE: What’s the special attraction of steampunk?
EMERIAN: I think people like the mixture of the past with new technology that could have been discovered back then had history taken an alternate course. It’s the draw of… What would our ancestors do if they knew what we knew? Also, the fashion is just cool.
JAMIE: Do you have a “day job”?
EMERIAN: I am a writer, artist, and voice actress full time.
JAMIE: What is your writing schedule/routine like?
EMERIAN: I get up and write/blog/market/network just like anyone with an office job, only I get to do it in my PJs most of the time. 🙂 However, I work harder than I ever did when I went to an office. I usually work from about 7am to 5pm every day – and on weekends. If I’m on deadline, I will work again from 8pm to 12am, or 2am, or whenever I am done or fall asleep on my keyboard. HA! I try to take one day off a week, but it rarely happens.
JAMIE: What is your best advice for aspiring horror writers?
EMERIAN: Write, write, and write more. Don’t dwell on one book for too long. Write a story and edit it, but don’t pin your hopes on one book. Once you get published you’ll have much less creative time and more demand for your work. It will be nice to have a closet full of books and stories available to pull out and tighten up.
EMERIAN: HorrorAddicts.net is a podcast, blog, and publisher for Horror Addicts, by Horror Addicts. We strive to cover the whole lifestyle of horror fans. Not just movies and media, but also books, fashion, lifestyle, and news.
JAMIE: There are a lot of activities going on at Horror Adicts. When it comes to writing competitions or other calls for submissions, what qualities separate the wheat from the chaff?
EMERIAN: Last year we held the first ever Next Great Horror Writer Contest where the best new horror writers competed for the chance to win a book contract with Crystal Lake Publishing. It was a tough competition where the authors had to fulfill thirteen challenges and their accumulative score would win them a chance to be in the final and be published. It was great fun and we met a lot of new writers that have since gone on to brilliant careers.
Our winner, Jonathan Fortin, is off to a great start and I expect to see great things from him. He’s already been published in several anthologies and his novel will be coming out in 2019 from Crystal Lake.
We are deciding whether to hold another Next Great Horror Writer Contest next year in 2019. You can keep up to date with that by subscribing to our blog. We will make announcements as soon as we know.
Also, every year we publish an anthology. This year, it is titled Kill Switch and the theme is tech horror. The submission guidelines can be found online and it closes October 31st, so pretty soon we will have tons of stories to read! How we make the decision on who gets published is with a panel of submission editors. We read all the stories, giving them a score between 0-5. Those with the highest scores are considered in a second round and then we create a well-rounded anthology that our readers will enjoy. For a story to be chosen, it must meet the theme and submission requirements as well as being scary and telling us a story we haven’t heard before, or at least in a new and different way.
Horror Addicts.net Submission Call direct link HERE.
“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” Stephen King
FOR HORROR LOVERS ONLY
This weekend in Sacramento, CA
For the horror genre lovers and writers among you, join HorrorAddicts.net and authors Mercy Hollow, Emerian Rich, E.M. Markoff, and J. Malcolm Stewart at Sinister Creature Con. Look for them at a vendor table in the Main Hall, 6151 H St, Sacramento, CA 95819
Poet and writer, I was once columnist and the associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded. I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.
My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The River Journal,The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, Second Light, I Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman.
Thank you for sharing your love of words. Comments will appear after moderation.
This is an except from the September issue of The BeZine, themed social justice. It is another example of the quality of work we share there. It’s also an important story at this time and Michael explains why. / J.D.
Off the trail
Author’s note: Originally written in July, 2013, this piece seems even more relevant and urgent 5 years later. It originally appeared here, on Meta/ Phor(e) /Play. A revised version appears in my flash fiction collection, The Toad’s Garden after The Palm Reading. This version has been slightly edited, most significantly to add the word “consumer” to modify capitalism, as the term “consumer capitalism” has come to my attention as one bandied about in place of democracy as the essential system of the United States (and promoted by some on the so-called “Christian” Right, although from my perspective, that political group seems neither Christian nor right…). The line about the great purges goes back to 2013, but we now see something like them beginning to form…
By chance I learned that they planned to crucify the married couple for honeymooning off the grid and outside of the mainstream consumer economy. The couple backpacked along the Appalachian Trail, using second-hand equipment, carrying home-prepared dried goods for meals , which friends provided to them as gifts.
The followers of Christ, Consumer-Capitalist, found such sacrilege untenable, especially in light of the anger it would cause the Corporate Lords of the Boardrooms.
I overheard my editor on his cell, assigning someone to cover the Meeting of Judgment where the sentence would be pronounced. When I understood that the other reporter wouldn’t be back from her current assignment in time, I sauntered in and asked what Ed had for me, like I didn’t know anything.
“The Reverend called to request we send someone to this meeting, give it coverage to send the message out. Work, spend, play inside the economy.”
“Got it. Keep the money flowing to oil the consumer capitalism machinery of wealth.”
I knew the catechism, but didn’t believe it. I’d sent dried lemon peels, home-made penne (dried to preserve it), a chunk of parmigiana traded on the underground market, and a sealed container of pesto for them to make a backpacker’s lemon pasta.
The Meeting of Judgment followed the usual pattern of these religious courts. A minister of the Reverend’s flock read out the charges. Two other ministers sat on either side, listening gravely. They conferred briefly. It didn’t matter that the accused even now were somewhere hiking in the woods.
As per custom, the ushers served cups of tea to the witnesses of the Meeting. We remained silent. I sipped a sad orange-pekoe until the lead minister announced the decision.
Crucifixion. It had come back in style around 2020, shortly after the great purges that deported, jailed, or enslaved first the non-Christians, then the wrong-type of Christians.
I had not seen a crucifixion. Up to now, it had been an advantage of a rural assignment.
“What are you going to do?” The man I knew as Germaine asked me. He’d popped up out of the crowd as I pushed out the door.
I’d seen Germaine at several social gatherings of people like me. My circles went along with the Reverend to a point, that is, enough to survive, and no more. We kept to ourselves, and tried to avoid the scrutiny of the Reverend and his ministers.
“Do? I’ll write a story about the Judgment, the reasons for it, and watch to see how many hits it gets on the Screens.”
I didn’t know Germaine enough to be baited into saying something damaging. Besides, that was what I planned to do.
“No, about them. We can’t let them get caught.”
“You could get crucified yourself for getting involved. Even what you said is a crime against Christian Consumer Capitalism.”
“What is Christian Capitalism? Something made up by corporate overlords who overeat from our consumption. There never was such a religion.”
I walked away. I considered whether he might be an agent provocateur, meaning I should report him before he denounced me for doing nothing. I decided that I didn’t want to get involved, and would invoke my sometime role as investigative reporter should he accuse me.
The next morning I had coffee with Frank, someone I thought I knew enough to trust under most circumstances. He told me that Germaine had been arrested for sedition, blasphemy, and heresy as a result of spouting the Devil’s own socialism.
“I’ll be damned.”
“Probably,” Frank said. “To tell you the truth, I thought he was a spy.”
After Frank went off to work, I looked for a screen-story on Germaine, but didn’t find one. I wondered how Frank had heard.
I read my own story on my screen, instead. It played well, several hits, re-posts, and praiseful comments.
It bored me. No, more than that, it sickened me.
I didn’t believe any of it. I knew the young couple, knew they loved the woods, knew they couldn’t afford a resort honeymoon because they wanted to buy a house and the downpayment would take everything they had.
They actually wanted to fit in and had no revolutionary or irreligious intent. They wanted to get along, but to also live their lives and not be pulled under the tide of consumer debt.
Just then, I realized that the Reverend and the ministers didn’t care. And maybe Frank didn’t read about Germaine on a screen.
The Reverend wanted to make a statement, keep people scared, keep people trying harder than ever to feed the economy and concentrate power and wealth into the Corporate Lords, who ran the Reverend.
Or maybe the other way around, the Reverend ran them. It doesn’t matter now, I realize.
Frank wanted me to play along and keep away from people like Germaine. It was almost a friendly gesture. It could have been a warning, even.
And that’s why I find myself sitting in a deer stand along the Appalachian Trail. The newlyweds should pass under it sometime today, if they haven’t yet been waylaid.
When they do, I’ll wait to see if they find the package I left out.
It has printouts of the screen story I wrote. It has a copy of the Judgment Decree. It has a map of little-known trails that cross this path, and what cash I could withdraw without getting stopped by a minister.
I thought that I would watch them pick it up and wait until they were gone, then make my way home after a few stops to justify my travel, should I get checked.
Now, I’m thinking maybe I’ll ask if I can walk with them a while when they go off the trail. I’ll cut out after a few days, find my own way.
I don’t know why I’ve decided to do this. I just don’t feel like writing another story I don’t believe in, I guess.
MICHAEL DICKEL a poet, fiction writer, and photographer, has taught at various colleges and universities in Israel and the United States. Dickel’s writing, art, and photographs appear in print and online. His poetry has won international awards and been translated into several languages. His chapbook, Breakfast at the End of Capitalism came out from Locofo Chaps in 2017. Is a Rose Press released his most recent full-length book (flash fiction), The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden, in 2016. Previous books: War Surrounds Us, Midwest / Mid-East, and The World Behind It, Chaos…He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36(2010). He was managing editor for arc-23 and arc-24. With producer / director David Fisher, he received an NEH grant to write a film script about Yiddish theatre. He is the former chair of the Israel Association of Writers in English. Meta/ Phor(e) /Play is Michael’s blogZine. Michael on Social Media: Twitter | FaceBook Page | Instagram | Academia
Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded. I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.
My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, Second Light, I Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman.
Thank you for sharing your love of words. Comments will appear after moderation.