AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

31 October 2021

Holds.

Spitzweg, The Witch’s Ride, 1875


May Jack-o-lanterns burning bright
      Of soft and golden hue
      Pierce through the future's veil and show
      What fate now holds for you.
By goblins of the cornfield stark
      By witches dancing on the green
      By pumpkins grinning in the dark
      I wish you luck this Hallowe’en.

Old Hallowe'en verse

The Cars, "Touch and Go"

Happy Birthday, Vermeer

Vermeer, Young Woman with a Lute, 1663


Jan Vermeer was born on this day in 1632.

Dreamy.


The POET'S CALENDAR: OCTOBER

My ornaments are fruits; my garments leaves,
Woven like cloth of gold, and crimson dyed;
I do no boast the harvesting of sheaves,
O’er orchards and o’er vineyards I preside.
Though on the frigid Scorpion I ride,
The dreamy air is full, and overflows ...

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Happy Birthday, Keats

Brown, John Keats, 1819


John Keats was born on this day in 1795.

Hampstead 
Tuesday, 3 February 1818

We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us—and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great & unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject.—How beautiful are the retired flowers! how would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, ‘admire me I am a violet! dote upon me I am a primrose! Modern poets differ from the Elizabethans in this.  Each of the moderns like an Elector of Hanover governs his petty state, & knows how many straws are swept daily from the Causeways in all his dominions & has a continual itching that all the Housewives should have their coppers well scoured: the antients were Emperors of vast Provinces, they had only heard of the remote ones and scarcely cared to visit them.—I will cut all this—I will have no more of Wordsworth or Hunt in particular—Why should we be of the tribe of Manasseh when we can wander with Esau? why should we kick against the Pricks, when we can walk on Roses? Why should we be owls, when we can be Eagles?

John Keats, from a letter to J. H. Reynolds

Meant.

Dreams.


OCTOBER

Come, dowie October, in mantle o' yellow,
Wi' the Hyp an' the Haw on thy fast-fading croon;

Come, soothe me a blink wi' thy speech sad and mellow,
As 'mang the brown Brackens I saf t' lay me doun!

0, lay on my lips frae the Simmer sun droothie
Ae blab o' the Bramble, November shall mar;

An' read me yer sermon sae saftly an' coothie,
While draps the last Row'n in the deep rocky scaur!

Thou tell'st me the friens that I loo'd in Life's Simmer,
Like thy chequered leaves frae my heart drap awa";

An' leave, o' the licht o' ilk face, but a glimmer,
Aboon the wild waste o' Death's drear driftin' snaw!

October, I lo'e thee ! Thy whisper is soothing;
There is Lore in thy face, there is wealth in thy
bowers:

Thy pensiveness adds but a charm to my musing
And sweet are my dreams through thy fast ebbing
hours!

James Rigg

Holborne, "The Nightwatch"

Janusz Tumidajewicz performs all parts ...

Honor.


Bring forth the raisins and the nuts—
To-night All Hallows’ Spectre struts
            Along the moonlit way.
No time is this for tear or sob,
Or other woes our joys to rob,
But time for Pippin and for Bob,
            And Jack-o’-lantern gay.
 
Come forth, ye lass and trousered kid,
From prisoned mischief raise the lid,
            And lift it good and high.
Leave grave old Wisdom in the lurch,
Set folly on a lofty perch,
Nor fear the awesome rod of birch
            When dawn illumes the sky.


‘Tis night for revel, set apart
To reillume the darkened heart,
            And rout the hosts of Dole.
‘Tis night when Goblin, Elf, and Fay,
Come dancing in their best array
To prank and royster on the way,
            And ease the troubled soul.
 
The ghosts of all things, past parade,
Emerging from the mist and shade
            That hid them from our gaze,
And full of song and ringing mirth,
In one glad moment of rebirth,
Again they walk the ways of earth,
            As in the ancient days.
 

The beacon light shines on the hill,
The will-o’-wisps the forests fill
            With flashes filched from noon;
And witches on their broomsticks spry
Speed here and yonder in the sky,
And life their strident voices high
            Unto the Hunter’s moon.
 
The air resounds with tuneful notes
From myriads of straining throats,
            All hailing Folly Queen;
So join the swelling choral throng,
Forget your sorrow and your wrong,
In one glad hour of joyous song
            To honor Hallowe’en.

John Kendrick Bangs

Spooky.

Wyeth, Mischief Night, 1994


Mr. Macklin takes his knife 
And carves the yellow pumpkin face: 
Three holes bring eyes and nose to life, 
The mouth has thirteen teeth in place. 
Then Mr. Macklin just for fun 
Transfers the corn-cob pipe from his 
Wry mouth to Jack’s, and everyone 
Dies laughing! O what fun it is 
Till Mr. Macklin draws the shade 
And lights the candle in Jack’s skull. 
Then all the inside dark is made 
As spooky and as horrorful 
As Halloween, and creepy crawl 
The shadows on the tool-house floor, 
With Jack’s face dancing on the wall. 
O Mr. Macklin! where's the door?

David McCord

Smelling-Something-Wrong.


It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And dry grass and dead flowers now that autumn was here. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of…

Boys.

And it was the afternoon of Halloween.

And all the houses shut against a cool wind.

And the town full of cold sunlight.

But suddenly, the day was gone.

Night came out from under each tree and spread.

Behind the doors of all the houses there was a scurry of mouse feet, muted cries, flickerings of light.

Behind one door, Tom Skelton, aged thirteen, stopped and listened.

The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats.

Tom Skelton shivered. Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows’ Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet.

Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.

The cries behind the locked house doors grew more exasperated as shadows of boys flew by windows. Half-dressed boys, greasepaint on their cheeks; here a hunchback, there a medium-sized giant. Attics were still being rummaged, old locks broken, old steamer chests disemboweled for costumes.

Tom Skelton put on his bones.

He grinned at the spinal cord, the ribcage, the kneecaps stitched white on black cotton.

Lucky! he thought. What a name you got! Tom Skelton. Great for Halloween!

Everyone calls you Skeleton! So what do you wear?

Bones.

Wham. Eight front doors banged shut.

Eight boys made a series of beautiful leaps over flowerpots, rails, dead ferns, bushes, landing on their own dry-starched front lawns. Galloping, rushing, they seized a final sheet, adjusted a last mask, tugged at strange mushroom caps or wigs, shouting at the way the wind took them along, helped their
running; glad of the wind, or cursing boy curses as masks fell off or hung sidewise or stuffed up their noses with a muslin smell like a dogs hot breath.

Or just letting the sheer exhilaration of being alive and out on this night pull their lungs and shape their throats into a yell and a yell and a … yeeeellll!

Eight boys collided at one intersection.

“Here I am: Witch!”

“Apeman!”

“Skeleton!” said Tom, hilarious inside his bones.

“Gargoyle!”

“Beggar!”

“Mr. Death Himself!”

Bang! They shook back from their conclusions, all happy-fouled and tangled under a street-corner light. The swaying electric lamp belled in the wind like a cathedral bell. The bricks of the street became planks of a drunken ship all tilted and foundered with dark and light.

Behind each mask was a boy.

“Who’s that?” Tom Skelton pointed.

“Won’t tell. Secret!” cried the Witch, disguising his voice.

Everyone laughed.

“Who’s that?”

“Mummy!” cried the boy inside the ancient yellowed wrappings, like an immense cigar stalking the night streets.

“And who’s—?”

“No time!” said Someone Hidden Behind Yet Another Mystery of Muslin and

Paint. “Trick or treat!”

“Yeah!”

Shrieking, wailing, full of banshee mirth they ran, on everything except sidewalks, going up into the air over bushes and down almost upon yipping dogs.

But in the middle of running, laughing, barking, suddenly, as if a great hand of night and wind and smelling-something-wrong stopped them, they stopped ...

Ray Bradbury, from The Halloween Tree

Pied-Piper.

Churchill, The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell, 1963


From the Sotheby's catalog ...
The Goldfish Pool was one of Churchill's favourite spots in the garden at Chartwell. Situated just beyond the house itself and surrounded by wonderfully verdant shrubbery including bamboos, hydrangea, acers and cotoneaster, the pool was part of Winston's extensive renovation of all the water features at Chartwell and became a particularly contemplative spot where he could be found feeding his beloved fish right up until the end of his life. His grand-daughter Emma Soames recalled the Sunday ritual for all the grand-children of following their Grandpapa down to the pool to watch him feed the goldfish. Pied-piper like, they would proceed in single file behind him, across the stepping stones to his usual seat by the water-side where he would tap his walking stick, stirring the goldfish to life.

30 October 2021

Deep.


Fires at midnight.  

Breathe deep the scent of Jack's lantern.

Towering.

Wilgus, Ichabod Crane, Respectfully Dedicated to Washington Irving, 1865


It was the very witching time of night that Ichabod, heavy-hearted and crestfallen, pursued his travel homewards along the sides of the lofty hills which rise above Tarry Town, and which he had traversed so cheerily in the afternoon. The hour was as dismal as himself. Far below him the Tappan Zee spread its dusky and indistinct waste of waters, with here and there the tall mast of a sloop riding quietly at anchor under the land. In the dead hush of midnight he could even hear the barking of the watch-dog from the opposite shore of the Hudson; but it was so vague and faint as only to give an idea of his distance from this faithful companion of man. Now and then, too, the long-drawn crowing of a cock, accidentally awakened, would sound far, far off, from some farm-house away among the hills; but it was like a dreaming sound in his ear. No signs of life occurred near him, but occasionally the melancholy chirp of a cricket, or perhaps the guttural twang of a bull-frog from a neighboring marsh, as if sleeping uncomfortably and turning suddenly in his bed.

All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon now came crowding upon his recollection. The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally had them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal. He was, moreover, approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost-stories had been laid. In the centre of the road stood an enormous tulip tree which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth and rising again into the air. It was connected with the tragical story of the unfortunate Andre, who had been taken prisoner hard by, and was universally known by the name of Major Andre’s tree. The common people regarded it with a mixture of respect and superstition, partly out of sympathy for the fate of its ill-starred namesake, and partly from the tales of strange sights and doleful lamentations told concerning it.

As Ichabod approached this fearful tree he began to whistle: he thought his whistle was answered; it was but a blast sweeping sharply through the dry branches. As he approached a little nearer he thought he saw something white hanging in the midst of the tree: he paused and ceased whistling, but on looking more narrowly perceived that it was a place where the tree had been scathed by lightning and the white wood laid bare. Suddenly he heard a groan: his teeth chattered and his knees smote against the saddle; it was but the rubbing of one huge bough upon another as they were swayed about by the breeze. He passed the tree in safety, but new perils lay before him.

About two hundred yards from the tree a small brook crossed the road and ran into a marshy and thickly-wooded glen known by the name of Wiley’s Swamp. A few rough logs, laid side by side, served for a bridge over this stream. On that side of the road where the brook entered the wood a group of oaks and chestnuts, matted thick with wild grape-vines, threw a cavernous gloom over it. To pass this bridge was the severest trial. It was at this identical spot that the unfortunate Andre was captured, and under the covert of those chestnuts and vines were the sturdy yeomen concealed who surprised him. This has ever since been considered a haunted stream, and fearful are the feelings of the schoolboy who has to pass it alone after dark.

As he approached the stream his heart began to thump; he summoned up, however, all his resolution, gave his horse half a score of kicks in the ribs, and attempted to dash briskly across the bridge; but instead of starting forward, the perverse old animal made a lateral movement and ran broadside against the fence. Ichabod, whose fears increased with the delay, jerked the reins on the other side and kicked lustily with the contrary foot: it was all in vain; his steed started, it is true, but it was only to plunge to the opposite side of the road into a thicket of brambles and alder bushes. The schoolmaster now bestowed both whip and heel upon the starveling ribs of old Gunpowder, who dashed forward, snuffing and snorting, but came to a stand just by the bridge with a suddenness that had nearly sent his rider sprawling over his head. Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod. In the dark shadow of the grove on the margin of the brook he beheld something huge, misshapen, black, and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller.

Washington Irving, from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", found among the papers of the late Dietrich Knickerbocker in Geoffrey Crayon's Sketchbook

Priest, "Devil's Child"

Behold.


Out I went into the meadow, 
Where the moon was shining brightly, 
And the oak-tree’s lengthening shadows 
On the sloping sward did lean; 
For I longed to see the goblins, 
And the dainty-footed fairies, 
And the gnomes, who dwell in caverns, 
But come forth on Halloween. 
“All the spirits, good and evil, 
Fay and pixie, witch and wizard, 
On this night will sure be stirring," 
Thought I, as I walked along; 
“And if Puck, the merry wanderer, 
Or her majesty, Titania, 
Or that Mab who teases housewives 
If their housewifery be wrong, 

Should but condescend to meet me”— 
But my thoughts took sudden parting, 
For I saw, a few feet from me, 
Standing in the moonlight there, 
A quaint, roguish little figure, 
And I knew ‘twas Puck, the trickster, 
By the twinkle of his bright eyes 
Underneath his shaggy hair. 

Yet I felt no fear of Robin, 
Salutation brief he uttered, 
Laughed and touched me on the shoulder, 
And we lightly walked away; 
And I found that I was smaller, 
For the grasses brushed my elbows, 
And the asters seemed like oak-trees, 
With their trunks so tall and gray. 

Swiftly as the wind we traveled, 
Till we came unto a garden, 
Bright within a gloomy forest, 
Like a gem within the mine; 
And I saw, as we grew nearer, 
That the flowers so blue and golden 
Were but little men and women, 
Who amongst the green did shine. 

But ‘twas marvelous the resemblance 
Their bright figures bore to blossoms, 
As they smiled, and danced, and courtesied, 
Clad in yellow, pink and blue; 
That fair dame, my eyes were certain, 
Who among them moved so proudly, 
Was my moss-rose, while her ear-rings 
Sparkled like the morning dew. 

Here, too, danced my pinks and pansies, 
Smiling, gayly, as they used to 
When, like beaux bedecked and merry, 
They disported in the sun; 
There, with meek eyes, walked a lily, 
While the violets and snow-drops 
Tripped it with the lordly tulips: 
Truant blossoms, every one. 

Then spoke Robin to me, wondering: 
“These blithe fairies are the spirits 
Of the flowers which all the summer 
Bloom beneath its tender sky; 
When they feel the frosty fingers 
Of the autumn closing round them, 
They forsake their earthborn dwellings, 
Which to earth return and die, 

“As befits things which are mortal. 
But these spirits, who are deathless, 
Care not for the frosty autumn, 
Nor the winter long and keen; 
But, from field, and wood, and garden, 
When their summer’s tasks are finished, 
Gather here for dance and music, 
As of old, on Halloween.” 

Long, with Puck, I watched the revels, 
Till the gray light of the morning 
Dimmed the luster of Orion, 
Starry sentry overhead; 
And the fairies, at that warning, 
Ceased their riot, and the brightness 
Faded from the lonely forest, 
And I knew that they had fled. 

Ah, it ne’er can be forgotten, 
This strange night I learned the secret— 
That within each flower a busy 
Fairy lives and works unseen 
Seldom is ‘t to mortals granted 
To behold the elves and pixies, 
To behold the merry spirits, 
Who come forth on Halloween.

Arthur Peterson

Lineage.


There is no secret to making good calvados, says Claude Camut. “All you need is the bonne fortune of being in the right place, on the right farm, with the right apples, for 800 years.” He should know. The head of a family that can indeed trace its lineage back eight centuries, to Viking times, he bears a name synonymous with some of Normandy’s finest farm-produced calvados.

Support.


Carlos Yescas on why raw-milk cheese matters ...
Seemingly unimportant everyday decisions are hugely political once they become part of a habit and a practice. If for example, we are choosing only one type of cow, or a selection of only one type of lactic culture, or only one form of cheesemaking. We tend to end up with standardized commodity cheeses that while delicious, are generic. Those generic products can be sold anywhere, at a standard price, and used in a typical way: melted. While this convenience may seem useful for some consumers, it rewards conformity in the marketplace and erases the producer. This in turn, pushes producers to compete on price and not quality, rewarding those who can make cheese cheaper and faster.

Raw milk cheeses, on the other hand, cannot so easily be standardized. There are too many points in the system where things change and make those cheeses unique and interesting. They are made with a different idea in mind, not just to turn milk into cheese, or turn a profit, but to feed and nurture. Seeking them, eating them, cherishing them is a political decision to support those complex relationships that allow them to exist. 

Imagination.

Inman, Dismissal of School on an October Afternoon, 1845


Most people don’t read the Sketch Book in full anymore, focusing instead on its two most famous tales: “Rip Van Winkle” and, of course, the object of our purpose, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” These are bumper crop works that repay and repay, but that’s the gist of the thirty-four essays, stories, anecdotes, and musings that comprise the Sketch Book itself, a weird piece of Americana by turns folksy, Gothic, chatty, and terrifying which also happens to be exceedingly accessible. And, wouldn’t you know, entirely modern, as if Irving’s words have piggy-backed atop the Horseman’s mount and rode into the latest age, ready to gallop off with a willing reader.

I return to at least “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” every Halloween. We all know the story: The somewhat vain new schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane, arrives in the village of Tarrytown in New York to take up his post, climb some social ladders, and cadge a number of free meals in the process. He falls for one Katrina Van Tassel and is fronted with a rival for her affections, the brawny Brom Bones. There’s a harvest dance at the Van Tassel residence where scary stories are told, including one of a dead Hessian whose shoulders represent the highest point of him, who patrols the glen in search of a replacement head. The skinny is that this demon rider can’t go past the bridge, so the key is in getting there. Ichabod and his plow horse head home late at night, a monstrous rider appears, a chase ensues, a fiery pumpkin is launched, and poof, there goes the schoolteacher. Cooler heads — ha — conclude he was a broken man and left in the night, but as Irving implies, the true townies knew the truth. Hessian monster gonna get you, in other words.

I love Irving’s prose: I love the narrative, the combined rustic charm and apprehension, but what brings me back yearly is the story’s visual aplomb. It reads, as much as any work I have ever read, like a painting taking on prose form. The reader is all but placed in these hillocks and cart-worn back paths where pheasants poke out their heads and the latest sound of the latest cricket has you looking amongst a pile of leaves to see if that was a bug or something else. That sense of the visual is so strong that its allure and festive shadings render what ought to be an outright terror tale as something more pleasingly conspiratorial. We pass along the knowledge that sometimes being scared can be fun, especially if it is autumn, and especially if you are in the northeast, where being scared at Halloweentime often means having a good imagination — something we should all cultivate and celebrate.

Lantern.

Falter, Bring Home Pumpkins, 1952


The PUMPKIN

Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun, 
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run, 
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold, 
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold, 
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew, 
While he waited to know that his warning was true, 
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain 
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain. 

On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden 
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden; 
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold 
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold; 
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North, 
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth, 
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines, 
And the sun of September melts down on his vines. 

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West, 
From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest; 
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board 
The old broken links of affection restored, 
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more, 
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before, 
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye? 
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie? 

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling, 
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling! 
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin, 
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within! 
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune, 
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon, 
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam 
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team! 

Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better 
E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter! 
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine, 
Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine! 
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express, 
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less, 
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below, 
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow, 
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky 
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie! 

John Greenleaf Whittier

Sport.


HALLOWEEN

Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the route is ta'en,
Beneath the moon's pale beams;
There, up the cove, to stray and rove,
Among the rocks and streams
To sport that night.

Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin' clear,
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
And haud their Halloween
Fu' blithe that night.

The lasses feat, and cleanly neat,
Mair braw than when they're fine;
Their faces blithe, fu' sweetly kythe,
Hearts leal, and warm, and kin';
The lads sae trig, wi' wooer-babs,
Weel knotted on their garten,
Some unco blate, and some wi' gabs,
Gar lasses' hearts gang startin'
Whiles fast at night.

Then, first and foremost, through the kail,
Their stocks maun a' be sought ance;
They steek their een, and graip and wale,
For muckle anes and straught anes.
Poor hav'rel Will fell aff the drift,
And wander'd through the bow-kail,
And pou't, for want o' better shift,
A runt was like a sow-tail,
Sae bow't that night.

Then, staught or crooked, yird or nane,
They roar and cry a' throu'ther;
The very wee things, todlin', rin,
Wi' stocks out owre their shouther;
And gif the custoc's sweet or sour.
Wi' joctelegs they taste them;
Syne cozily, aboon the door,
Wi cannie care, they've placed them
To lie that night.

The lasses staw frae 'mang them a'
To pou their stalks of corn:
But Rab slips out, and jinks about,
Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippet Nelly hard and fast;
Loud skirl'd a' the lasses;
But her tap-pickle maist was lost,
When kitlin' in the fause-house
Wi' him that night.

The auld guidwife's well-hoordit nits,
Are round and round divided,
And monie lads' and lasses' fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle coothie, side by side,
And burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa, wi' saucy pride,
And jump out-owre the chimlie
Fu' high that night.

Jean slips in twa wi' tentie ee;
Wha 'twas she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, and this is me,
She says in to hersel:
He bleezed owre her, and she owre him,
As they wad never mair part;
Till, fuff! he started up the lum,
And Jean had e'en a sair heart
To see't that night.

Poor Willie, wi' his bow-kail runt,
Was brunt wi' primsie Mallie;
And Mallie, nae doubt, took the drunt,
To be compared to Willie;
Mall's nit lap out wi' pridefu' fling,
And her ain fit it brunt it;
While Willie lap, and swore by jing,
'Twas just the way he wanted
To be that night.

Nell had the fause-house in her min',
She pits hersel and Rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
Till white in ase they're sobbin';
Nell's heart was dancin' at the view,
She whisper'd Rob to leuk for't:
Rob, stowlins, prie'd her bonny mou',
Fu' cozie in the neuk for't,
Unseen that night.

But Merran sat behint their backs,
Her thoughts on Andrew Bell;
She lea'es them gashin' at their cracks,
And slips out by hersel:
She through the yard the nearest taks,
And to the kiln goes then,
And darklins graipit for the bauks,
And in the blue-clue throws then,
Right fear't that night.

And aye she win't, and aye she swat,
I wat she made nae jaukin',
Till something held within the pat,
Guid Lord! but she was quakin'!
But whether 'was the deil himsel,
Or whether 'twas a bauk-en',
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
She didna wait on talkin'
To spier that night.

Wee Jennie to her grannie says,
"Will ye go wi' me, grannie?
I'll eat the apple at the glass
I gat frae Uncle Johnnie:"
She fuff't her pipe wi' sic a lunt,
In wrath she was sae vap'rin',
She notice't na, an aizle brunt
Her braw new worset apron
Out through that night.

"Ye little skelpie-limmer's face!
I daur you try sic sportin',
As seek the foul thief ony place,
For him to spae your fortune.
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
And lived and died deleeret
On sic a night.

"Ae hairst afore the Sherramoor, --
I mind't as weel's yestreen,
I was a gilpey then, I'm sure
I wasna past fifteen;
The simmer had been cauld and wat,
And stuff was unco green;
And aye a rantin' kirn we gat,
And just on Halloween
It fell that night.

"Our stibble-rig was Rab M'Graen,
A clever sturdy fallow:
His son gat Eppie Sim wi' wean,
That lived in Achmacalla:
He gat hemp-seed, I mind it weel,
And he made unco light o't;
But mony a day was by himsel,
He was sae sairly frighted
That very night."

Then up gat fechtin' Jamie Fleck,
And he swore by his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;
For it was a' but nonsense.
The auld guidman raught down the pock,
And out a hanfu' gied him;
Syne bade him slip frae 'mang the folk,
Some time when nae ane see'd him,
And try't that night.

He marches through amang the stacks,
Though he was something sturtin;
The graip he for a harrow taks.
And haurls it at his curpin;
And every now and then he says,
"Hemp-seed, I saw thee,
And her that is to be my lass,
Come after me, and draw thee
As fast this night."

He whistled up Lord Lennox' march
To keep his courage cheery;
Although his hair began to arch,
He was say fley'd and eerie:
Till presently he hears a squeak,
And then a grane and gruntle;
He by his shouther gae a keek,
And tumbled wi' a wintle
Out-owre that night.

He roar'd a horrid murder-shout,
In dreadfu' desperation!
And young and auld came runnin' out
To hear the sad narration;
He swore 'twas hilchin Jean M'Craw,
Or crouchie Merran Humphie,
Till, stop! she trotted through them
And wha was it but grumphie
Asteer that night!

Meg fain wad to the barn hae gaen,
To win three wechts o' naething;
But for to meet the deil her lane,
She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits,
And two red-cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets,
In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That very nicht.

She turns the key wi cannie thraw,
And owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawnie gies a ca'
Syne bauldly in she enters:
A ratton rattled up the wa',
And she cried, Lord, preserve her!
And ran through midden-hole and a',
And pray'd wi' zeal and fervour,
Fu' fast that night;

They hoy't out Will wi' sair advice;
They hecht him some fine braw ane;
It chanced the stack he faddom'd thrice
Was timmer-propt for thrawin';
He taks a swirlie, auld moss-oak,
For some black grousome carlin;
And loot a winze, and drew a stroke, 
Till skin in blypes cam haurlin'
Aff's nieves that night.

A wanton widow Leezie was,
As canty as a kittlin;
But, och! that night amang the shaws,
She got a fearfu' settlin'!
She through the whins, and by the cairn,
And owre the hill gaed scrievin,
Whare three lairds' lands met at a burn
To dip her left sark-sleeve in,
Was bent that night.

Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,
As through the glen it wimpl't;
Whyles round a rocky scaur it strays;
Whyles in a wiel it dimpl't;
Whyles glitter'd to the nightly rays,
Wi' bickering, dancing dazzle;
Whyles cookit underneath the braes,
Below the spreading hazel,
Unseen that night.

Among the brackens, on the brae,
Between her and the moon,
The deil, or else an outler quey,
Gat up and gae a croon:
Poor Leezie's heart maist lap the hool!
Near lav'rock-height she jumpit;
but mist a fit, and in the pool
Out-owre the lugs she plumpit,
Wi' a plunge that night.

In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
The luggies three are ranged,
And every time great care is ta'en',
To see them duly changed:
Auld Uncle John, wha wedlock joys
Sin' Mar's year did desire,
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,
He heaved them on the fire
In wrath that night.

Wi' merry sangs, and friendly cracks,
I wat they didna weary;
And unco tales, and funny jokes,
Their sports were cheap and cheery;
Till butter'd so'ns, wi' fragrant lunt,
Set a' their gabs a-steerin';
Syne, wi' a social glass o' strunt,
They parted aff careerin'
Fu' blythe that night.

Robert Burns

Ready.

Harris & Ewing, Getting Ready for Halloween, and It's Nobody's Business Where He Got the Pumpkin, 1923

Old Leatherstocking, "Unquiet Grave"

When twelve months and a day had passed
The dead began to speak,
Saying who is this who mourns for me
And will not let me sleep?

Wandering.

Wandering Acres Wild, down to the stones where old ghosts play ...

"Witch's Promise" ...


"Dun Ringill" ...


"Old Ghosts" ...

28 October 2021

Hang.

"Hang care!" exclaimed he. "This is a delicious evening; the wine has a finer relish here than in the house, and the song is more exciting and melodious under the tranquil sky than in the close room, where the sound is stifled. Come, let us have a bacchanalian chant—let us, with old Sir Toby, make the welkin dance and rouse the night-owl with a catch! I am right merry. Pass the bottle, and tune your voices—a catch, a catch! The lights will be here anon."

Charles Ollier, from "The Haunted Manor-House of Paddington"

For best results, listen to this ... AC⚡DC, "Highway to Hell"


The euphony transformed me and inundated my soul in a roguish countenance, the likes of which I had know well in younger days. Such impishness soon drove out the complaints of the day.

Umberto Limongiello

Swerve.


In one vast swerve, one doglike trot and ramble, they circled round and down the middle of the cobble-brick-street, blown like leaves before a storm.

Ray Bradbury, from The Halloween Tree

Abhors.


Monks were rich in interior life and very dirty, because the body, protected by a habit that, ennobling it, released it, was free to think, and to forget about itself. And when even the intellectual must dress in lay armor (wigs, waistcoats, knee breeches) we see that when he retires to think, he swaggers in rich dressing-gowns, or in Balzac’s loose, drôlatique blouses. Thought abhors tights.

Umberto Eco, from Travels in Hyperreality

27 October 2021

Excellent.

An excellent book ...


Andrew O’Shaughnessy talked about his book on C-SPAN.

Happy Birthday, Scarlatti

Velasco, Domenico Scarlatti, 1738


Domenico Scarlatti was born on this day in 1685.

Daniel Barenboim performs the Sonata in D minor, K.9 ...

Happy Birthday, Roosevelt.


Theodore Roosevelt was born on this day in 1858.

The lack of power to take joy in outdoor nature is as real a misfortune as the lack of power to take joy in books.

Theodore Roosevelt

Happy Birthday, Thomas


Dylan Thomas was born on this day in 1914.

A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him.

Dylan Thomas

Dwells.


OCTOBER

A wild confusion hangs upon the ear,
And something half romantic meets the view;
Arches half fill'd with wither'd leaves appear,
Where white foam stills the billow boiling through.

Those yellow leaves that litter on the grass,
'Mong dry brown stalks that lately blossom'd there,
Instil a mournful pleasure as they pass:
For melancholy has its joy to spare—

A joy that dwells in autumn's lonely walks,
And whispers, like a vision, what shall be,
How flowers shall blossom on those wither'd stalks,
And green leaves clothe each nearly naked tree.

Oft in the woods I hear the thundering gun;
And, through the brambles as I cautious creep,
A bustling hare, the threatening sound to shun,
Oft skips the pathway in a fearful leap;

And spangled pheasant, scared from stumpy bush,
Oft blunders rustling through the yellow boughs;
While farther off, from beds of reed and rush,
The startled woodcock leaves its silent sloughs.
  
John Clare, from The Shepherd's Calendar

Bow.


Terry Tempest Williams on the loves and appetites of Jim Harrison ...
In Harrison’s passionate play with language and his own erotic life of the senses, he enlists what Virginia Woolf calls “the divine specific”—essential to any writer who moves through their days with wonder, inquiry, and imagination.

If we read Jim Harrison’s Complete Poems as a query into a more conscious way of being, then we can begin to believe “the solstice says ‘everything on earth is True.’” Harrison tells us insight begins in that place of standing on the precipice of darkness and light. Being human means being stretched between the known and the unknown: the longest day of summer is also a move toward winter, the longest night in winter is a turn toward brighter days. We bow to time and the cycles of change that are beyond our control. Light will come. Darkness will come. We are held in the numinous hours of grace before dawn and after dusk.

Thank you, Jessica.

Happy Birthday, Chatham

Chatham, Montana Evening, 1991


Russell Chatham was born on this day in 1939.

“THE GREAT DUCK MISUNDERSTANDING"

 Two drake mallards are limp on the kitchen counter. These large birds, just down from Canada, were ambushed near a marsh in southwestern Montana about four in the afternoon one still, bitter, cold December day. Regrettably, there was a third, not now present.

 The slough had been staked over the rises a through a stand of cottonwoods.  There I stopped to warm my hands and admire the elegant thirty-year-old pigeon grade Winchester Model 12 I’d just acquired in a trade for a large painting of the Big Sur hills washed in summer light.  An odd juxtaposition of places, moods, and objects.

 When the ducks broke from cover, jumping almost straight up and squawking, they fanned out.  The first one went down cleanly.  The second and third, nearly out of range, were cripples that coasted into a flat swampy field covered with a foot of snow.  I found number one right away, mounted in a snowdrift exactly as he’d hit it.  The others were nowhere to be seen. I began to crisscross, finally stepping on one, which somehow burst up into my arms.

 The third mallard died beneath the snow, becoming one of those pointless killings thoughtful hunters recall with sadness.  Or maybe he tunneled his way out of Park County into another possibility with only a little lead in his foot, though its doubtful he ever lived to hear Spanish being spoken in the towns beneath him.

 Back in the kitchen the transition is being made from wild animal to something to eat.  I am going to treat my new girlfriend to one of those special culinary experiences doors are locked for.  She comes in unexpectedly early, while the birds are still being plucked.  When she sees them she does her version of Eddie Cantor trying to blow up a truck tube, and runs into the bathroom.  I lose heart and consider serving her cat shit while I have roast duck.  But I already knew most people get it wrong.

 My father was a sensitive man whose spirit had been utterly broken early on, and he replaced it with a shroud of ennui, which effectively kept life at arm’s length.  His systematic self-denial only faltered when there were ducks for dinner.  Duck was the only food to which he ever really warmed, and in his defense of the quality of duck as dinner, he forbade the serving of it to guests or children, neither of whom could be trusted to appreciate it.  I even think the failure of his marriage was largely due to the fact his wife ‘didn’t think ducks were that good.”

 It must have been an inherited characteristic. When I catch trout I normally turn them loose afterward.  And even when I take one home knowing it will be delicious, I’m still far more interested in catching the fish than eating it.  The same with grouse, certainly a delectable bird.  And so it goes with bass, salmon, pheasant.  But when I see a duck, even one of those on a city-park pond that takes bread crumbs out of the palms of old ladies, the desire to kill and eat is nearly Satanic.

 All game birds are exquisite on the table, but there are certain fanatics for whom nothing does the job quite so perfectly as a prime wild duck.  Those on the inside often argue darkly over which species is most superb.  Easterners defend the black duck; westerners, the sprig or pintail, Midwesterners, the mallard.  Everywhere, the tiny teal is spoken of in hushed tones.  In the South, the real connoisseur will hear of nothing but the sublime wood duck.

 But most people get it wrong, and so you learn not to talk about it.  Raving about how you like to eat duck might bring invitations to dinner from hunters who have freezers of them.  Many of these hunters will be baffled by such enthusiasm because they themselves would “rather have a T-bone.”  You’ll find out why when dinner is served.  The missus will have stuffed the ducks with breadcrumbs and baked them in a 325-degree oven for three hours, creating in the process a classic je ne sais quoi.  Served thus, with some dried out peas, mashed potatoes and a cup of coffee, a date with an icebox full of wet hair would be preferable.

 The best way to bail out the evening, aside from very heavy drinking, is to convince the hosts the bird was delicious, and hope they’ll give away the rest of the ducks from their freezer.  Later they will make fun of you as a screwball, but you will have skated off with the raw material for many quasi-orgasmic moments.

 I am sitting with my friend Joe in his living room overlooking San Francisco Bay.  I know Joe shares and understands my love affair with the wild duck.  We talk of duck hunting and duck eating.

 “Let’s go next door,” he says.  My neighbor is a duck-eating fanatic.”

 Next door it is clear that Hal, his new neighbor, doesn’t trust me any more than I trust him. I am sure he uses too cool an oven, over cooks the birds, and makes a disgusting sauce, if any.  He no doubt believes I dredge the birds in flour, chicken-fry the living piss out of them, and dish them up with boiled potatoes.

 “How do you fix the?” I ask cautiously.

 “Roast them in a hot oven.”

 “How hot?”

 “Five hundred degrees for about twenty minutes.”

 “Jesus, that’s right!  Use sauce?”

 “Yep.”  Hal knows he has an audience now and stops to casually refill his glass.

 “Wine sauce?”

 “Wine, Worcestershire, lemon.”

 We fall onto the couch excitedly.  His sauce ids perfect, that is to say, exactly like mine.  He coats the birds generously with butter and salt. He uses a very hot oven. Cooks them fast.  Likes them rare.  With wild rice.  Wine sauce.  French bread.  And good wine.

 Joe is giggling absurdly.  He gets a shotgun out of the gun rack and tracks imaginary birds with it across the living room.  Hal and I get down to some serious duck talk.  By serious, I mean we are going to do it.  Have a duck dinner together.

 The problem is that duck has been closed for eight weeks.  A Long Island duckling or any other market duck is as much like a wild duck as a twelve-pound self-basting turkey is like a mourning dove.  We could use frozen birds left over from the season and trust that they’ve been treated properly.  Hal admits having two sprig.  Joe has three teal.  This little piggy has none.

 Trade, that’s it, trade somebody something for one.  How about a nice striped bass for a mallard or two?  My brother still has ducks in his freezer and, yes, he says we would like to have a bass.

 I know a place to catch one and the following evening I’m fly casting into the teeth of a spring gale, waiting for the first feeders.  The first one comes almost to the boat before the hook pulls loose.  With an easy flip of its tail I se a plump mallard glide out of sight into the murky waters of the bay.  The wind gets stronger and my chances of not hooking another fish are steadily improving.  Surprisingly, a bass surfaces near shore, and in a quick backhand maneuver I cover him and he’s on.  This duck puts up a good fight but is no match for the ferocity with which I haul him over the transom and make him mine.

 When you consider the great cuisines of the world, notably those of the Orient and France, many of the finer dishes are made with duck.  In a sense, duck is to chicken what pork is to veal.  It has extraordinary texture and flavor.

 Because of their fine qualities, ducks have been domesticated for centuries.  In France, the two most commonly raised for the table are the Rouen duck and the Nantes duck.  There are several other varieties, including a crossbreed used especially for foie gras.  The Rouen duck is unique partly because of the way it is killed.  In order to be sure the bird looses no blood, it is smothered.  Because of this the blood remains distributed in the meat, giving it a reddish brown color and a special flavor, which is highly valued.  These ducks are eaten the day they are killed to avoid possible buildup of toxins.

 Wild ducks are found in the Orient, but there, too, the birds were long ago domesticated and thoroughly incorporated into the cuisine.  For instance, in the north, ducks are sometimes inflated with air so that the skin lifts away from the flesh to become very crispy, creating the famous Peking duck.  In the south, ducks are often filled with seasoned liquids, then roasted to create Cantonese duck.  The Chinese roast, simmer, braise, smoke, steam, and deep-fry ducks.  The results are universally sublime: the aforementioned Peking duck, roast-honey duck, chestnut-braised duck, red-simmered duck, eight-jewel duck, white-simmered duck, Nanking duck, duck steamed with tangerines, steamed deep-fried pressed duck, stir-fried duck, tea-smoked duck, and hundreds of variations on these recipes.

 The French have their famous caneton a l’orange and variations thereof, duckling mousse, duckling with cherries, olives, turnips, sauerkraut or peas, and he remarkable gallantine de caneton.  But perhaps the duck’s finest moment in French cuisine arrives in the form of canton Rowena’s en salamis a la presser, described by the redoubtable Paul Because as Rouen duck from the Hotel de la Corinne, and of which he says, “… it is the best one can imagine.”  Essentially, this is a roasted duck, carved in the standard French manner, served with a sauce made in part of the reduced juices pressed from the bird’s carcass.  The dish is guaranteed to make you forget all about the farmer advancing across his barnyard, pillow in hand.

 All of this exotic and sophisticated cookery notwithstanding, a wild duck remains a wild duck.  The reason why domestic and wild birds are so unlike one another is very simple.  Domestic ducks walk slowly around the barnyard, and are generously fed so their meat lacks density and becomes laden with fat.  In the United States, the ducks which best demonstrate this are the Long Island ducklings available in markets. Wild waterfowl are all migratory.  They travel thousands of miles at high speed.  It is said that the reason ducks and geese fly in a “V” formation is that the strongest bird leads and the others follow in his slipstream.  When he tires, one of the birds, which have been traveling toward the rear, moves up to take his place.  These waterfowl suggest the vast scope of seasonal mysteries through a tremendous display of grace and nobility.

 The heart is the only other muscle which must sustain longer and more even activity than the breast of the wild duck or goose.  For this reason, the breasts of these birds are very large, rich with life-giving blood, and extremely dense, the birds themselves being almost entirely without fat.  Wild goose, incidentally, is also totally unlike its domestic counterpart.  No other table bird has as much fat as a barnyard goose.  Wild goose, like wild duck, has none. There fore if you follow a recipe for a domestic goose while trying to cook a wild one, you’ll ruin it.

 As with other dark-meated birds and animals – sage hens, doves, antelope and deer, for instance, -- very precise cooking is essential.  Oven temperature should never fall below 450 degrees and cooking time is short.  Mere minutes too long and these meats will be dried out and ruined. All game, especially wild duck, should be cooked rare.  If you don’t like it you should stick to gruel or corned beef hash.  A friend recently pointed out that the waitresses in the sleaziest diner in America always ask how you want your steak cooked.  You might say in this case it’s a toss up who is more ignorant, the fry cook or the customer.  In a truly fine restaurant, never is the diner asked how he would like something cooked.  That is the chef’s job.

 In Europe, game is available in most good restaurants.  Chefs there have centuries of experience to inform them and they never get it wrong.  In America, it is unlawful to sell game of any kind and so it remains the hunter’s reward alone.  Here, the chef who must get it right is you.

 I call Joe.  “Got some ducks. When can we do it?”

 “How about this Thursday night?  That’ll give us time to think about it for a few days, you know, to get ready.  I’ll call Hall because he’ll want to leave work early that day.”

 On Wednesday I am in San Francisco looking around some of the galleries when I run into a woman I’d met almost a year earlier.  We were at a party and she had taken me home.  She was a musician and in her apartment a cello leaned against the Steinway.  I had thought of Casals passionately instructing a young female student to  “hold it like it was your husband.”  Was I going to be her cello?
 She was so fully ripe a woman, with such an important frame, that there was nothing to do but whatever she might ask.  She came right to the point, telling me to get undressed and wait for he in bed.  In that zone of half-consciousness we all recognize as the result of too many drugs, I began to wonder if she was crazy and if so was she also dangerous.  I heard voices coming from the bathroom.  Perhaps, I thought, she is talking to herself before slashing her wrists, or worse, planning to bring razor blades to bed.  When I peeked through the door she was naked and had a green parrot on her shoulder and they were talking.  When it got light she had woven me into a cocoon of sexual heat that stupefied me for weeks.

 Now, a year and a half-dozen fruitless phone calls later, we are sitting having a cappuccino and her voice is deeper than I remember, her hair darker red.  When we are about to part she says simply, “Be at my apartment at nine tomorrow night. Ciao.”

 Joe listen, there’s this woman … well, what I was wondering was could we possibly do the duck thing on Friday night.”

 “Are you kidding?  You are kidding, aren’t you?  Hal would short circuit.  The ducks are thawed!  We’ve been getting ready.”

 “But I … you’re right.  What am I saying?  I’ll be there.”

 On Thursday I make an ingredients run.  You can’t trust anyone else to do this.  First stop is the Sonoma Bakery on the town square in Sonoma to purchase the San Francisco Bay area’s finest loaf.  The French salesgirl drops the magnificent two-pounder into the bag and it hits bottom with a sound like hands clapping.

 Next stop is Petrini’s in Greenbrae, one of the great supermarkets on earth.  I buy two-dozen fresh bluepoints, large perfect avocados, two grapefruit, fresh lemons, parsley, shallots, garlic, unsalted butter, Worcestershire, red currants, red-currant jelly, a dry red wine for the sauce, and at the deli counter, a good brie.

 In Sausalito I find two bottles of Echezeaux and a Pommard, old, heavy, aromatic reds that seem just the thing to go with the duck.  And bottle of Cordon Bleu brandy.  I have a handful of dry bay leaves from a tree near my mother’s house, and from the Ramy Seed Co. in Minnesota, a pound-and-a-half of extra-long-grain wild rice.

 When Joe and I get to Hal’s his lady is putting on her coat.  “I don’t want to know anything about this,” she says, backing out the door.  Hal explains that she saw it before and was appalled.  His ducks are sitting on the sideboard.  From his wine rack he has taken two bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and they are standing open.  I open my bottles and we begin to examine the ducks, counting wounds, guessing ages, noting the peculiarities of each species.  We have a mallard, two sprig, three teal, and two widgeon.

 We dress up the bluepoints with a dash of Tabasco and lemon juice.  They are light and fresh, perfect with a bottle of Fume Blanc, which just happened to be in Hal’s refrigerator.  The bay outside the window looks like modern art, shiny and pinkish in the afterglow of a smooth spring day.  Two canvasbacks swim by and I undress them in my mind.

 The beginning of our sauce is the result of a previous meal. A stock was made by simmering duck carcasses with vegetables, and was then frozen.  Now it is will be heated and reduced.  We drop in a couple of the bay leaves.

 “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Hal?”

 “I’m going to stuff the ducks with this onion.”

 “I knew it, Joe, he’s going to ruin the goddamn ducks.”

 “Trust me.  I stuff them loosely.  Little salt and pepper. Little onion. Little butter. Splash of sherry.”

 “Okay.  But make mine extra loose.  And for God’s sake, when you put them in the oven, don’t let the ducks touch one another.”

 We bring the wild rice to a boil twice, rinsing it each time.  The trick is to cook it more by soaking in hot water than by actual simmering.  Brought to a boil for the third time, in chicken stock rather than plain water, it is removed from the heat and left to stand.  I make a small salad of avocado slices and grapefruit sections, finishing it with a vinaigrette dressing.

 We turn the oven up to 500 degrees.  Before roasting, the ducks must be completely and heavily covered with butter softened to room temperature.  The birds are then salted and put on a low rack set on a shallow roasting pan.

 Timing will be crucial, so it pays not to drink too much until the birds are cooked, carved, and served.  The three big ducks go in first, followed seven minutes later by the widgeon.  Six minutes later the three teal go in, and ten minutes after that all the ducks are done.  When the ducks come out of the oven, Hal and I carve them carefully into two halves, disjoining the wings and legs from the carcasses and the breast meat.  These are set on a warm platter.

 Meanwhile, Joe has added to the stock a dash of Worcestershire, a bit of finely chopped shallot, and several squeezes of lemon juice.  The stock is boiled rapidly for some minutes to develop its flavor and also reduce it a bit further.  Finally it is strained into a skillet, brought to a fast simmer, and the carved duck placed skin side up in it to take the blood-rare edge away from the carved face.  We are careful not to leave the birds on this stock for more than about ten seconds.  Hal has a wonderful kitchen utensil not much in demand around the suburbs these days: a duck press.  The halves of duck are placed on a covered, heated platter, ready to be served.  The carcasses are then pressed to extract every bit of juice, which is then added to the reduced stock.  We add some pre-soaked currants, and the sauce is done.  Finally, the French bread is toasted under the broiler, rubbed with a garlic clove, and liberally buttered.  We are ready to eat.

 Before long, rice and sauce cover the table.  Lemon wedges lie scattered about.  French bread is torn loose.  Each bite of rare, juicy meat is a new thrill, wild duck being something like a cross between filet mignon and fresh deer heart, only with more flavor than either.

 Our wine glasses become increasingly grease-smeared as we pick up each carcass and suck down to the bare bone and gristle.  We carelessly gulp the fancy vintages.  Our shirt fronts are ruined.  Juice and blood run from elbows on to knees and the floor.  The room is blurred. We belch, fart, laugh, and groan.

 As the carnage winds down I think about my date and wonder if it’s too late, but the face of the clock refuses to come into focus.  I find a mirror and what I see there can only be described as soiled.

 I grab a glass of cognac and flop into a lounge chair out on the deck.  The salt air feels good and as I gaze vacantly into the middle distance, nearly comatose, I wish without much conviction that her tits were in my face.

Russell Chatham, from Dark Waters