Road like Fire

Oils on 16″ x 20″ stretched canvas, 2014-5, Boston. From a series of five in which the best one was in the stolen batch, and another I just gave away. I guess I should have a go at the “road like fire” concept anew one of these days.

What is it about the road that is so like fire?
Staring into it, watching the landscapes flicker,
I fall into the trance of night
like a cat’s liquid pounce into a lap.
Like a hunter caught in a larger cat’s trap—
happy, hot, swaying lap.


Newsletter Change

“These are your privacy settings. Blink to accept,” oils on 100 x 80 cm stretched canvas, 2017-18. 

As I mentioned in my newsletter last week… Due to changes in European data law (GDPR, taking effect this week)—and my impression that social media is crap—I’m leaving MailChimp.

I’ll just email people who want to continue receiving infrequent updates about my art, writing, and other goings-on. What that means for my website is that now the newsletter sign-up on the side-bar is gone. So, like it says on my About page, just email me (if you haven’t already) if you would like to receive infrequent updates on my art, writing, research, etc.

Either way, I’m deleting my MailChimp account and all the data it holds this week. I’m so much happier off Facebook and Twitter.  And I don’t want / use / even know all the data MailChimp collects on email marketing… So I know it’s going to feel better to not have that lying around, either.




“some sorrows are like stones, and they never melt, though our tears rain and groove them… “—Derek Walcott

Yes, I have carried many heavy stones.
Sometimes the weight has made me stronger.
Sometimes I could not walk any longer.
What is it to you if I cannot put them down?

Meanwhile the man who loves me sleeps.
I cannot injure what he owns.
I would like to lie like water in his ridges,
grooving so softly the canyon of his chest.

What I love best
is the bridges
that over water and stones
stretch solid, straight, and kind.
They are beautiful without rains and troubled water.
They are also beautiful when spring storms blind.

When the storms have passed,
sometimes the high waters have swept away
stones that seemed they couldn’t be moved,
and the bridges themselves may be grooved
like stones
that last
and last.


Home and Home Again

A rewrite of and new riff on an older draft of a poem about being happy at home with my love. These are the sorts of things I’m not sure are original enough to leave in the book; but I’m so glad I could write them, I’ll probably let them stay nonetheless…


Sweet, soft, clean, and hot—
too tired to remember what I’ve washed,
too happy to care. This is how we get there.
Home, into each other, every night.
Home, still inside you, you still inside me,
every sweet morning in the early light.

I want to live where this peace flows
over you from inside me
and over me from within,
over and around us like rushing water,
the impossible stream gushing from the stone.

Sleeping and waking in the rhythms of your breath,
in the rhythms of my breath,
in the flow of our dreams,
never bursting the seams of time with rush and such.
Free to be at home together
free to follow the sun, making our own weather.
You feed my gentleness, and my fire
with a love so listening, my savage squire.


“Home Again”

Your chest holds my face
like a glass of wine—sweet, calming, and craved
like a hot shower—warming my wearied wake
and like a favorite poem,
the cadence of your breath saying again and again
how beautiful the world is and how it is my home.



“Weiter” is “further”or “continue” in German. Our camper van’s name is a play on this…


From the undulating Elba
to the port-pocked Rhine,
we ferry our camper
down to the sea
in no time.

We find the dunes
just as we left them,
swirling softly under the moon.
And lie down in summer grasses,
and float on soon.

Where we’ll be next time we wake,
neither of us knows.
Free in love and place and time,
to go where the wind blows.

So soft the curling dunes at night,
so sweet your pillow-chest.
I’ve never played so long and hard,
or gotten so much rest.


So I Have Been Blogging Some Poems

“Fox and Friends,” 2017, oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (sold).

After saying that I might a few months back, I have indeed been blogging some poems. To paraphrase the Stones, it’s only poetry but I like it. And it’s going well.

I’m working on my second poetry book manuscript, Vagabonding. (My first poetry book is illustrated here.) I might restructure it completely in a next editing phase, hopefully before finishing it in August. But so far I have just rejiggered it slightly in two main rounds this year of editing, cutting around 50 pages and rewriting a bunch. So now it looks like this—

New Arriving, Europe (9—done, e.g., here). Was 10, now is 9 poems from London to Lisbon and Amsterdam, where I lived when I first immigrated to Europe in 2015. I’ve edited and blogged all of them, although there are a few that I haven’t re-blogged since substantial editing and a few that I know still need good writing or to be cut.

Finding Berlin, Germany (7—done, e.g., here). Was 12, now is 7 poems, about making my home in Berlin. Again all are edited and blogged; again I still know a few that want more attention or to be cut. 

High Art (2 remaining, 6 done, e.g., here). Was 10, now is 8 poems on art. A few remaining to be edited into a form that I want to blog them, or cut if it can’t be done. 

Back in the Colonies (7 done, e.g., here). Was 11, now is 7 poems on goings-on back in the colonies, mostly America. All edited and blogged; still a few needing another good edit or to be cut.

Back for Forwards (9 done, e.g., here). Was 19, and then I broke this section into two parts—this section and the next. Now this section is on looking back…

One Step Forward (10 done, e.g., here)… And this section is on going forward… And all are edited and blogged. 

Relations (5 done, e.g., here). Was 10, now is 5 poems on family. Kill your darlings…

Nuremberg, 2027 (13 done, e.g., here). Was 10, now is 13 (mostly from re-ordering the manuscript). Envisioning future war crimes trials. All edited and blogged (in fact many more blogged than made the cut; so it goes. Forgive me for being drafty on the Internet…)

Vagabonding Anew (7 done, 2 remaining; e.g., here). Was 10, now is 9 poems on seeing my new Continent, mostly with my love in a camper van. I had blogged none back in January when I posted my draft Table of Contents, and now have edited and blogged seven; there are two remaining. 

Newly Arriving Every Time (7; to be done). Was 10, now is 7 poems on happiness and home with my love in Berlin. I’ve still only blogged just this one early version.

Others (4; to be done). Was 15, now is 4 poems on sexuality, still all needing to be edited into a form that I want to blog them, or cut. 

Sweet Home (4 remaining, 2 done; e.g., here). Was 12, now is 6 poems on being happy at home with my love again. Might combine well with the section before last. Yes, yes, that happens now. Now we’re back down to 12 sections. Good. And I can combine them so it’s 10 instead of 13, and then that might help me rewrite as well, the regrouping… Thank you, Internet, this helps.

Sweet Roam (2 remaining). Was 5, now is 2 long trip sequence poems. With many parts. That I’m still not sure what to do with, in whole or in part. 

I guess I’ll wrap up the obvious—editing and blogging what stays from the last five sections—before re-printing the manuscript physically and/or re-structuring the whole. I’m such a Luddite when it comes to editing, especially larger projects. I really have to hold it and see it, to see it. But it’s good. I’m making good headway, and I like my work.


Yearning for the Birth of Athena

A rewrite of an earlier draft of a much older story. Probably goes at the end of the Nuremberg 2027 section of Vagabonding (my next poetry book). If it makes the cut…

This is a poem about those times you have been crouching under a worktable re-reading The Odyssey (Emily Wilson translation), trying to ignore the bad upon worse news while yearning for some mother-fucking eagles to swoop down and tear out some mother-fucking faces, pre-journey Telemachus-style—but you know much of art and religion is just one, long imagining of unattainable justice in (and beyond) an unjust world, and a blinding one that promotes false faith at that. It’s useful when it gets you out of a bad situation (trust in God and get on a plane). But then you put it away like a security blanket and face facts.

There will be no eagles. Only books and tables, and coming back out from under them to vagabond, relax, see so many gorgeous palaces and cathedrals that you’re all cathedralled out for a while, and accidentally discover Virgo Lactans—paintings of Mother Mary squirting milk on baby Jesus, [your favorite monk or benefactor here], and the flames on the poor souls in purgatory. With the help of baby Jesus, who aims.

So at least not all art is fantasy about over-coming powerlessness. Some art is fantasy about magical breast-milk. Which I guess is a male fantasy about over-coming the powerlessness of not being able to lactate, by getting to direct the lactation. Hmm.

In any case, I guess you could say this is a poem about not waiting for a hero, even one who defies normal gender roles to the extent that she’s born war-ready from the wrong end of the wrong gender. Athena has it all; but we don’t have Athena.

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas, 2016 or so, web store.

“Yearning for the Birth of Athena”

You know how it is when
you lay with the goddess
of lulz and wisdom,
and have second thoughts.

So you swallow the bitch—
the available plan B.
But instead of dying,
she’s splitting your skull.

Or it feels that way.
So you have your closest friends
open your head with an axe.
We’ve all been there.

The fully armored, battle-crying
goddess leaping out. The mind of god
becoming woman
with a shout.


Now where’s pregnant Zeus,
when we need him most?
Why are the fighting, fucking, meddling gods
waiting to jump in and save the coast?

Did they get distracted
by their social media stats?
Are they working their second jobs?
Are they busy watching cats?

Or did we anger them so much
that they left for good this time?
Never again to grant a foolish wish for golden touch?
Nor to settle injustice itself—instead of crime?

Stop waiting for your hero
to pop out of some pompous dude.
Or the chances will be zero
that we’re anything but screwed.


Painting Itsukushima

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

This is a rewrite of a poem I linked to yesterday in the “empires fall” vein. It’s still not as tight after rewriting as this one that says much the same thing, but that came out whole. That’s ideas for you… Sometimes when you hold out your hands you can catch them. Anyway, literally this is a poem about the shrine that survived the nuclear blast in Hiroshima.


“Painting Itsukushima”

Bring me your despair—but only a bit.
Resistance is a marathon, not a sprint.
Pour out what you must and I’ll sweeten it.

Every day I pour myself out—sometimes by pouring in.
Every day the great works of the ages wear a little thin.
Time ravages everything. No one knows what will happen.

Except in the big picture we’re all doomed, and that’s alright.
Everyone dies. Empires fall. Experts imagine they know what’s right.
Our brains tell us stories, day and night.

If you had seen Rome crumbling, what would you have done?
Written a friend, retired to think, sent away your only son?
Toward the end, it must have been clear to everyone.

Maybe fiddling on the roof is all there is to be done.
A fireball—the phallic missiles’ burst—the arms race finally won.
Madmen have ruled the world before.

Yet we’ve avoided nuclear war.
The blasts thus far have been contained. But not the fear—
the blanking mind, making threats; the will to fight, flee, and follow.

It hits us all—soft skins, soft cells, soft atoms, mostly hollow.
Maybe that’s how the shrine in the water not so far out
from Hiroshima survived the bomb.

Too much substance in its spirits for its matter to go wrong.


Pula, Istria—Croatia

This is a poem in my happy vagabonding series (e.g., 1, 2, 3…) in my Vagabonding poetry book (in manuscript) about exploring my new Continent in good company. It’s about admiring the Roman ruins in Pula, Istria (Croatia) with my love last summer. It also resonates with some other poetry I’ve written/blogged/illustrated, on how empires fall.

“Pula, Istria”

Here is pink!
and there is purple!
Begonia bound
and gate crepe myrtle.
Olive upon olive tree
to cook and lather you and me.
Vineyards for the sweetest wine—
and of the ending, not a sign
but these stone ruins on the hill.
(No reason, either, crossing this
pagan blue sky they touch and kiss.)
This morning, we can build them still.
The Roman bridge, the Gothic arch,
and its devout and sure démarche.

But we had better write it down
in some form other than a town,
before that old collective rot
starts in
and we forget again
how it had been
to build
(and be fulfilled
by) what they built
(with trig, not guilt),
after we lose
the muse
of what
we got.


What Loves a Wall

From the stacks of gouache, pencils, ink, and mixed media on paper I made last spring-summer, largely illustrating poems in my next book, and still haven’t photographed to properly put online. 

For a long time I’ve struggled to situate Robert Frost’s brilliant poem “Mending Wall” in the context of Trump’s America—responding to harsh anger and intentional ugliness with this beautiful, rambling softness of a story. In spite of its limitations there is something powerful and human about arguing this way—as a creative human being rather than a fighter or a machine. Something worth the work.

So I made some poem-paintings riffing on it, recorded the poem, tried setting it in my own lyrics riffing on it on top of my favorite Chopin Nocturne, apologized to Chopin, used the music to edit my poem anyway, and continued to feel there is a song here but I haven’t sung it. Frost’s most haunting line here has innate melody.

But the rest has yet to spin out for me, if it ever does. Often music is like this for me. I feel I have a job to show up to, but I show up and the flow gets stuck. The same thing happens with speaking sometimes, but I manage. Someday I hope to get through a few Berklee music theory and practice books that have been sitting on top of my beloved piano forever, to retrain my 20+ year old rusty classical music mind to compose and play more pop-y stuff, so that I can finally write, learn, and perform proper accompaniment for the poems that have melodies.

Poems have always had melodies in my mind—to the extent that I used to assume they do to everyone. It still seems strange to me when it’s this pronounced, that it’s only me. Can’t you hear it? “The thing with feathers” that doesn’t love a wall…

Your Daughter’s Voice (U.Va. Serpentine Wall),” oils on 16″ x 20″ stretched canvas, 2014 (sold).

“What Loves a Wall”

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”—Robert Frost

Faith doesn’t love a wall,
but releases its wings
to the winds in a sprawl,
letting go of direction-like things.

Hope doesn’t love a wall,
loves looking up and around in thrall,
wants to see the neighbors and all,
likes to be seen by one and all.

Love can’t not love—yet with walls,
stays to herself, silenced, feeling the cold
creep into her gardens and halls.
Love within walls doesn’t live to grow old at all.

Peace might seem at first to love a wall—
to be left alone, quiet at home, with no visitors.
But people are animals—need contributors,
friends and fellow-travelers, and inquisitors.

Trust doesn’t love a wall at all.
Nor understanding, its cozy nest and catchall.
Trust and understanding don’t love a wall.
And what loves a wall, doesn’t love them at all.

What loves a wall is fear.
What loves a wall is degradation.
What loves a wall is panic and its blindness that makes more blindness.
What loves a wall, loves the shame of a nation.

What loves a wall is wrongdoing.
What loves a wall is wealth that has no mercy on the suffering.
What loves a wall is shame.
What loves a wall, loves pain.

But what loves a wall most of all is the sea,
making modern sea walls crumble
with post-modern holes and speed.
Or maybe it’s the falling-apart of the plates’ shifting rumble.
Or the new life—trees and bushes, animals, mosses, and things—
the new life that follows destruction so quickly,
it can seem like rotting makes a bird sing
when it’s only the rising sun,
only the unwalled wordly one,
only the same, impossible will to keep on
that drives on everyone.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
That something is a part of us all.


We were paradise

“feeding the well”—pouring inspiration/goodness/newness in without expecting anything out; Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way. 

Recently I was feeding the well in Málaga, where I saw and reviewed a lovely Mediterranean art exhibit. And this is a poem about feeding the well, as an activist as well as an artist, last summer in Croatia with my love and another member of our tribe (h/t GP).

“We were paradise”

We were olive trees
we were stark blue seas
we were nearer to Greece than I’ve ever been
and you tasted the olives and said it’s a sin
how empires have changed so much since then.

We were rosemary breeze
we were soft pink flowers
we were walking on blisters and talking for hours.
And I bought you apricots like you had at your aunt’s,
and no one on the beach was bothered with pants.

What was the world while we were paradise?
What glaciers melted while we were fresh ice?
What forests burned down while we played nice?
What cities flooded, what droughts drilled what dirt?

Though we missed many train-wrecks—
failed to feel all the hurt—
we were trees and seas and needed breeze.
We were flowers and hours and apricots on the beach.
When we meet again, in peacetime or in breach,
I’ll call up this you if you call up this me.


Roast Chicken at McSweeney’s

When my devices didn’t reliably display websites’ actual content, my accounts apparently engaged in activity not of my doing, my phone didn’t reliably complete calls as dialed, a buncha my files disappeared, and other crazy shit happened in Boston in 2015, one of the funniest things was how a website that looked like mine but wasn’t had recipes alongside sex toy reviews. What’s more embarrassing: that, or the fact that at the time, I hadn’t ever touched a sex toy? Unless you count Barbies, which have many uses… (Clearly my embarrassment threshold has grown three sizes since then.)

But I used to love writing recipes, including some that were published years ago as Reviews of New Food for McSweeney’s—Coconut Borscht, Chocolate Love Vegan Cupcakes, Shepherds-Who-Want-You-To-Be-Healthy Pie, Herbal Supplements, and Hot Chai Malk. Which reminds me of how, at one time before the current era of bliss—and before the immediately preceding era, in which I only stopped working to apply calories to body to avoid problems—I also enjoyed cooking. A lot. 

In fact, as a little girl I enjoyed it so much that I tried various cooking-centered businesses, like selling brownies (or giving them away) to the neighbors (age 8?) and Christmas pralines to local businesses (age 20). That was when I wasn’t selling (or giving away) art cards and paintings. It should have told me something that my early cooking and art-centered business ventures generally involved losing money and/or giving the best stuff away. But I like what I like.

And as this new recipe at McSweeney’s today suggests, I like roast chicken. Also Germany. Germany is nice. I would like to become German as soon as possible, but the citizenship road is about 7 years long and I’ve only been here about 2.5 years. So like any good American, I’m brainstorming how to achieve my dreams through careful planning, hard work, and unfair shortcuts.

What if I get a quick online degree in nuclear physics? What if I marry a Dutchman who speaks really good German? What if my great-grandmother was a starving Jewish girl sent by her Romanian parents from Iași to live with relatives in illustrious Stanisławów, Austria-Poland-Ukraine, but luckily she GTFO before they killed all the Jews in all the places and none of my relatives on that side had any citizenship to restore to me now anyway because they were all, as I may have mentioned, Jews? GIVE ME CITIZENSHIP AND I WILL BAKE YOU BROWNIES.

Wait, is quid pro quo for citizenship illegal? Look, all I’m saying is, Make Vera European Again.


Seafood Bisque

Recently a dear friend asked for my chicken recipe. As I only keep secrets that need keeping, I wrote it out for her. But I got a little carried away and wrote it like I used to write Reviews of New Food for McSweeney’s—which is to say, snarkily. Then I submitted it to McSwy’s, even though I hadn’t written for them in years. And they took it!

I was so excited that I wrote another review immediately, which the editor kindly pointed out was lovely but longer than what they normally publish. So I cut it by half, and the editor kindly pointed out it was more of a straight-up recipe than what they normally publish. That was when I realized I had forgotten to review in my reviews. Here’s the longer-still rewrite, which remedies that error.

I do, however, really like writing straight-up recipes and wonder if people might want them, too. After finishing my second poetry book, I’d really like to write something with more of an audience. So I wonder if that sort of a (gluten-free, oddball) cookbook project might be it. 

This is mirepoix. It goes in (almost) everything. 

“Seafood Bisque”

When I was a little girl, before my parents divorced, my abusive alcoholic father abandoned the family, and my mom got sicker and sicker—in short, before everything fell apart—we drove from the white-flight suburbs an hour and a half outside Birmingham, Alabama to the Atlantic coast of Florida, all the way to the paradisiacal beaches of Ponte Vedra near my parents’ hometown of Jacksonville, every summer I can remember. The drive would take a few days, in which my older brother and I would make shaky backseat peaces with Pez and Tchaikovsky’s life story would replay on cassettes so hot the smell of melting plastic still reminds me of Swan Lake.

All happy families, Tolstoy wrote, are happy in the same way. But all unhappy families develop their own reward systems for surviving each other on summer vacation. There in paradise, my dad would get as drunk as possible as often as possible, my mom would walk the pristine white beaches trying not to cry, and I would collect dozens upon dozens of purple shells that looked like painted half-moon fingernails. No one could ever tell me what they were called, so I named them pestañas, the Spanish word for eyelashes, because it’s pretty and sounds purple. (Google says they’re called tellins.) I don’t know what my brother did there, since he didn’t like playing or talking with me, a preference I used to think of as cold but now understand as Aspergiac.

Then we would all reconvene for a special dinner at a special club over a Japanese bridge over a man-made pond with snapping turtles that my dad joked would be in my soup, and eat luscious seafood bisque (cream soup) with diabetical Southern sweet tea. That soup tasted like butter, milk and honey, crab meat, better booze than I got sips of in my dad’s orange juice, and, quite possibly, turtle.

Times have changed. Now we know what to call my brother’s strangeness (high-functioning autism), and possibly my own; as well as our mother’s long and difficult illness (lupus). But of other people one says little, except that they have managed heroically to leave the shared muddle of our past and be whole, although it has required becoming wholly different and wholly apart. My brother and I independently changed our names during one of the stretches of months or years when we were not speaking. (I think I was first, but he wouldn’t give me a date the last time he would speak to me, which was already some time ago.)

For myself, I have managed this appearance of starting anew with no small number of aids—a brilliant and loving partner’s support in a new career on a new Continent under my new name, for example. It is sometimes said that a son grows up and leaves you, while a daughter is forever; so I spent a long time being a good daughter, after which I became a happier son. I am a pre-op trans-Continental. As a hip bastion of radical artsy sciencey LGBTQIAOHNOES, my household intermittently nerds out about ketosis, keeping sugar in the forbidden cabinet originally designated for glutenous fare, cold medication, and God. And as I moved about as far away from the U.S. South, culturally speaking, as you can get without learning Norwegian, I have learned to make my own soup—my way.

This learning did not start with old recipes, or other things I carried. The things I did not leave at first fit in a backpack. I did not miss anything else. But eventually, with the help of a very few and dear friends, I sent for more: the tapes of interviews I had conducted as a curious artist and early grad student, before turning my PhD research focus to their topic—polygraphs, or “lie detectors”; the oil paintings that I hadn’t given up, sold, or had stolen by the man who agreed to take them from the storage unit I could no longer afford to display in his AirBNBs, as a favor to us both; and at last the better flavors of my childhood—cajun spices, blackened meat, and seafood bisque.

I had hoped to turn up but never did, and still don’t know what happened to, my 500+ tellins, although I now suspect they must have been lost a decade earlier, in the emergency one-way ticket to Alabama move of ’04, when my mom’s lease was up and she was too sick to manage, so I brought her up to college with me. She slept on the sofa with mysterious bruises and rages—a different person than the mom I knew. I missed her too much to love her. No one said lupus never presents without neuropsych problems. No one said it was lupus; we figured it out. (She credits me, and I credit Isabel; but it’s patients who have the answers.) My flatmate moved out. The flirtatious older professor saw his opportunity. And there went my 20s.

Leaving everything behind was something I tried to do many times, and finally managed only under that great expatriating duress that turned out to be much more blessing than curse. Also curse. But more blessing.

Similarly, the long-undiagnosed gluten allergy that kept me accidentally skinny into my late 20s seems to have also damaged my esophagus permanently, so that I am physiologically incapable of burping—when I drink too much fizzy stuff, my throat growls all night like a bullfrog in heat—and have had to learn to cook anew several times. This was not fun when back in grad school, I was crying from intense, hyperthyroid hunger at 2:30 a.m., having lost 15 pounds and half my hair in a month, and did not know what to feed myself to keep the hunger pain at bay because everything I used to cook had gluten.

But now that my arsenal of quick snacks and full meals is fleshed out again, I can enjoy the fluidity of cooking favorites on automatic—that Zen of flow in doing something I know how to do and like doing. As well as the challenge of trying something new and complicated—like cobbling together fifteen recipes while improvising to make this soup. And making it gluten-free like I make everything, as well as low-carb like I make most things. The blessing of learning to cook and eat healthier from the curse of medically having to. That is the newness of the food here, although it is an old childhood memory I’m remaking, recipe-constructing, and reviewing at last.


All good seafood soups start with a strong fish fumet, or fresh stock (clear bouillon) made from boiling an enormous pot of bones and/or shells. The bones, and the fish flesh you’ll need later, must be from non-oily fish, like cod. And you cannot walk into the grocery store and ask the butcher to sell you his seafood throwaways for thirty cents, like you could when—oh my God, it’s happening—I was a little girl. I’m only 33! I think.

Anyway, grocery stores these days—oh my God, it’s really happening!—don’t sell you fish bones and shrimp or crab shells for soup. At least not anywhere I could find in Berlin, Germany. For that, I discovered after striking out four times and asking a local, you have to go to a Fischladen (fishmonger), like the aptly named Der Fischladen. And you have to call to order your kilo of carcasses a day ahead, since not many people do this. And you shouldn’t do it on a Friday or weekend, because they’re busy.

Some recipes call for pouring a half bottle of white wine over the carcasses before boiling away, but this is a waste as adding a smaller amount of wine to the soup later retains more of the flavor (and leaves more wine for drinking). The same goes for the oft-advised addition of “aromatics” (veggies and spices) to the bone broth. It’s more flavorful if you wait and, after the full pot has boiled down to a stock (which takes a few hours in a four-liter pot), separately sauté the veggies and spices. I use a modified mirepoix (French diced and sautéed veggie flavoring) of garlic, onions, fennel, carrots, celery, and parsley (in order of cook time), with 3-5 bay leaves and cajun spices—here, a mixture of vegan bouillon in place of salt, plus freshly ground black pepper, paprika, cayenne, thyme, and oregano, to taste.

When a fork mashes through the carrots easily enough, put the mirepoix in a blender (sans bay leaves). Then strain the fumet into a smaller pot. Add some of it to the veggies in the blender. Blending the veggies thickens the soup without adding flour. You can use this trick in most soup and casserole recipes. It takes half an hour or so, but adds a lot of flavor (and probably some nutrition) along with its thickness. In theory, you can make a huge batch of mirepoix ahead of time to add to different dishes bit by bit. But I’m lucky enough to be able to spend time relaxing in the kitchen; there is something incomparably peaceful for me about making fresh food in smaller batches.

The last time I made (or attempted to make) this bisque, I had forgotten to get shrimp because I was too distracted flirting with the cute, sweet Italian guys at Der Fischladen (hi Angelo, hi Daniele) after a wonderful dinner date with my hot, sweet boyfriend (and a bathtub-sized glass of wine). (Or maybe I’m just getting old and forgetful… Omg, it’s happening.) Made this way, it’s still a lovely soup, but lacks the full flavor of my childhood memory. It really needs both fish bones and shells in the broth, and fish meat and shell meat in the soup. Four out of five friends who have never heard of Ponte Vedra agree, but only after a bathtub-sized glass of wine. The fifth one thinks it needs turtle.

Sauté the meats while the fumet and vegetables blend. Then combine some of the remaining fumet with the blended fumet-vegetable mixture—as much as you need to get the consistency almost right, but still too thick for soup. Then add about a cup of cream, half a cup of white wine, and four or five ounces of cooking sherry. Every other recipe you can find will say to use 1-2.5 ounces, but these recipes are empirically wrong. It is also important to test the sherry while cooking, to be sure it has not turned communist while living in Europe.

When the fish is cooked so that it falls apart, take it off the heat long enough to crumble it into the soup, removing any remaining bones with your fingers. Chop the shrimp or crab meat and add it, too. Squeeze in a few lemon slices at the last minute. Let cool before chilling, reheating for lunch the next day, and taking some in Tupperware to share with the nice fishlads and other friends. Most seafood is best fresh, but this bisque gets better every day for the few days it lasts, the flavors seeping together like a new lover getting comfortable. It tastes like that lasting pleasure of connection not everyone experiences with birth family, but if we’re lucky we find later in good company and in bed, maybe even at the same time.

But first thing after serving the first night’s soup: Take out the trash. Yesterday’s boiled bones and fishheads stink. There is nothing left to do with them. There will always be people who think you still need to catalog them or something, just because you’ve made some soups in your day. They will demand details, or suggest treatments and mantras, all focused on doing more with the used-up bits you’ve already picked clean and then boiled for soup. Forgive them; which is to say, forget them. They didn’t have what you had, and they haven’t made what you made of it. They don’t know that’s just not how cooking works, that’s not how bones work, that’s not what feeding people is all about. Just smile and tell them you’ve already made that soup. And you already gave away the last bowl.

This is Fred. He makes soup. 



Walking along the Amstel

This is a poem in my Amsterdam series (1, 2) inspired by my time living there in 2015 as a still-fresh expat in a world full of people reorienting in various ways. Sometimes you go looking for the promised land (resistance, a free world, trade routes made of gold) and discover other searchers instead—and that home in other searchers is the best reorientation you could wish for.

“Walking along the Amstel”

Bicycles, babies, and boats bob along the Amstel—
the Rival, the Tramp, and the Res Nova exhaling in gentle troughs.
Amsterdam after L.A. is practical and gray.
Here, bits of blue sky make no Technicolor promise.

Clouds come and go quietly, leading by example.
Mothers laugh and trail behind babies on bicycles,
Dutch stomachs effortlessly tight as they juggle
groceries, phones, and younger babes. (Look, Moms! no hands!)

I am counting butterfly bushes instead of losses,
no longer counting colors to keep from staring at oncoming trains.
Rustling reeds remind me the summers are short,
but my season here is ample—time cool and long.

My new life is like a length of boat sailing across the horizon,
with the slowness of scale but the smoothness of a cat
comfortably at home. I am a stranger here, and illegal.
But there’s no where to return—I will never go home.

All the world’s reset on roam.
This vagabonding is our Res Nova.
Home in the world is the new home.
Banging along for Yucatán, discovering Cordova.