I am the brutality of a baboon’s canines,
I am the fecundity of a jack rabbit
I am a lily rooted in granite.
Chicken Tikka Masala
6 garlic cloves, finely grated
4 tsp. finely grated peeled ginger
4 tsp. ground turmeric
2 tsp. garam masala
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 ½ cups whole-milk yogurt
1 tbsp. kosher salt
2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
3 tbsp. ghee
1 small onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup tomato paste
6 cardamom pods, crushed
2 dried chiles de àrbol
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus sprigs for garnish
Steamed basmati rice
1 six pack of Coors tall boys
2 Black & Mild wood tip Jazz
½ gallon Carlo Rossi
1 book of matches
This dish is to be prepared when you find yourself alone on a late afternoon in mid-October. When you’ve looked up from your book and found the house you are in to be silent, but the comfortable sort of silence that envelopes you and makes everything alright.
There is sadness, but there is always a bit of sadness. And today there is less. And so you prepare the kitchen for cooking.
Put on the song “Born To Be Blue” by Chet Baker.
Combine garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, and cumin in a small bowl. Whisk yogurt, salt, and half of spice mixture in a medium bowl; add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and chill 4-6 hours. Cover and chill remaining spice mixture.
You think of the boat. You think of everything you used to say about the boat. But it all meant so much more than the words could ever convey and so you don’t talk about it anymore. You wish that the boat could have traveled the great river with you. But that would have been impossible. Between pulls from the jug of wine, you repeat that to yourself; that would have been impossible, that would have been impossible…. (See Note A).
You must now go and get on your bicycle. You have some hours still before you can proceed. It is recommended that you bring with you a tall boy, as well as one of the cheap cigars. You probably have particular spots near to wherever you are staying that you frequent often because of some emotional connection to the place, so it is recommended that you go to one of these spots now. You think of other particular spots in other specific locations in your past. You are reminded of the emotional connections you had to each spot. The result of these memories is visceral. This is why you brought the cigar.
Heat ghee in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and chiles and cook, stirring often, until tomato paste has darkened and onion is soft, about 5 minutes.
Let the smile play upon your lips at the memory of the twelfth time you saw them.
Add remaining half of spice mixture and cook, stirring often, until bottom of pot begins to brown, about 4 minutes.
And now the memory of the forty-second time. (See Note G).
You accidentally look over at that corner of the counter you know you are not supposed to look at and so you look away quickly. It is there that they left a bear paw shaped smudge of red paint when they were walking to the sink to wash their hands. The painting is somewhere, half-forgotten, but that smudge is still there and you are afraid to ask yourself why that is. (See Note B).
Add tomatoes with juices, crushing them with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until sauce thickens, 8-10 minutes.
You allow the back of your mind to wander over forgotten songs they would sing about Carlo Rossi. How did that go? What comes after that line? (See Note E).
Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 30-40 minutes.
There is probably a letter you want to write, laundry to start, or a neighbor to visit. You have a bit of time with which to distract yourself. (See Note C).
Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack inside sheet. Arrange chicken on rack in a single layer. Broil until chicken starts to blacken in spots (it will not be cooked through), about 10 minutes.
You think about the first time they said yes. Then you think about all the times they said no, and especially about that final no. Your brow furrows as your fingers curl into your palms. You feel the bite of your nails. It is okay to momentarily forget about the meal. (See Note D).
You take a drink from the tall boy, and then you take another. You are thinking of nothing, and then suddenly you are thinking of all the nights you spent together. Not any one night in particular, but the accumulation of all of them. They seem to come together behind your closed eyes into a swirling mass of stars and shreds of cloud. This sphere of nocturnal memory moves upwards to take its place among the other spheres that make up the night sky of your mind.
You blink. And blink again. (See Note F).
Cut chicken into bite-size pieces, add to sauce, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 8-10 minutes.
Serve with rice and cilantro sprigs.
Remember the first smile you ever saw.
Remember something shameful.
Remember who you are and where you have been.
Now remember something that hasn’t happened yet and smile to yourself.
Now stop remembering.
You still have a cigar left.
I knew a girl once
Whose hair was like bricks
Through my fingers.
And I never saw her heart
Save in the stories she told
And even then only a heart
Like words I was unfamiliar with.
She dreamed of nights
On cold steel
In boxcars heading east
To places where the banks of rivers
Rise to play among the reeds.
And where she could breathe
And listen to the sound of it all.
I am thinking of you in sky blue
Wearing necklaces of junk and leather
That hang low on your chest
And the thoughts
They are suffocating
It was once and only once
That I knew I would always
And also that I would never
Save in hotel rooms
With wine and with bread
And with a limit to our time.
A train whistle has never sounded so melancholy.
I woke up this morning expecting you there next to me. I had hoped you would come in during the night, crawl in next to me, to warm yourself against the cold. Instead I was tangled in my sheets, blurry-eyed and with a head full of sleet, my door closing behind an unseen phantom. And I knew it was you leaving for the train yard.
And so we drank.
We drank as though it were not a privilege
But a right.
We drank as if each of us had fought
A battle wholly personal
And of, and only of, the individual.
A war waged on the phantoms
Of the past
And on a future both longed for
We had returned victorious,
Each of us in turn,
And together we drank.
And above all else,
She wrote me notes
That frayed at the edges
In my pockets.
I have lost all of her notes,
Pages she wrote,
Letters to the world
Written in words that shook with her fury.
I let them fall between car seats
Lost and forgotten
Because she never told me
That I was to hold them for her.
And so I only thought of them
As passed notes in a hallway
That as she passed by
Her hand would meet mine
A folded note.
Her hands were hard, marked with charcoal,
And they held firmly onto my hands.
Her thumb would play with my thumb
When she was nervous.
Her father waited outside our school
With friends and a baseball bat
And I ran to my car
For she was his, and no one else’s.
I don’t remember her name.
“Every sweet nothing I have ever said was for you.”
You see this written in the margins of the recipe.
It is best that you ignore this
For no other reason
Than to forget, forget, forget