Ode to the Gefilte Fish
my grandfather would eat dozens
at a time out of jars like cookies.
gelatinous bone jelly dripping
from his fingers like honey.
around Pesach i look forward
to the story of our people devising liberation
strategies and this loaf of fish on a glass plate
a sliced, boiled carrot on top, perhaps, a mound
of horseradish, the mush of hot mess
sliding down my throat like mucus.
gefilte fish is the perfect food
for a wandering people, weaving around
europe with sacks, scrounging scraps
seaside, a boatload of cuttings, unwanted
bones and guts, a mish-mash of whitefish
carp, pike, anything with protein that's kosher
patty-caked with matza crumbs, discarded bits
the baker would throw away, put to use
an environmentally forward Ashkenazic hamburger of sorts!
a culinary amalgamation! a Yiddish for the palate!
a chit'lins of the shtetl!
gefilte means stuffed!
i eat them like doughnut holes
until i live up to the name.
they are not sweet. they smell
like sweaty asses at the shvitz.
but in one ground nugget
a day's nutrients. a touchstone
in diaspora, a testament to perseverance
and the ingenuity to live
with stank breath.
my bubbe in the backyard
wears a gas mask, grinding horseradish
from scratch to lather these beige balls.
this salty bland doorstop of a main dish.
the messiah will come before it's reinvented
on celebrity cooking shows.
and i hate to say this
but it is the golem in the room
and my nose is already too big.
i can't afford to tell a lie...
gefilte fish looks like balsa wood
took a shit
but tastes like history.
my grandfather is dead.
i eat to honor stories he never told me.
this flawed, lovely creation
tastes so much like home.
©2013 Haymarket Books