There’s not much I don’t know about you— yellow, red, sweet—grubbed up roots and all. Essential for a vigorous cuisine, alerting the sense—the crackle of your paper brown outer skin, your translucent inner sheaths like vegetable undergarments, your pungent heat rising from sharp steel and cutting board to my blurred eyes, your precise circles against the wood, before the sizzle in the buttered pan.
Reluctant to relinquish our intimacy your sharp essence clings to my fingers, like a reputation. Hours later, in the dark, you season the air around my hands, I’ll stud you with stars of cloves to bury in the belly of the bird before roasting. Or nestle your pearls with a stalk of mint among the green peas. If I leave you too long in the pantry, your patience exhausted, attenuated, soft at the center, you send up green spears through the mesh bag that call out chop me, make a salad, I am delicious.
How do I interpret my own layered membranes, like growth rings? I try to peel away the layers of my onion heart, never getting all the way in.
No one understood my nightly need to be reassured I’d wake up again the next day. Eyes closed, I saw no sheep but the tufts of pampas grass looming silver like a solitary path. The scroll hung above me, a verse in five and seven, its flowing hand thin and illegible—I still knew it was about our life not lasting very long. How is it that adults were okay with such a prospect? In July, bamboo blades rustled against paper cranes and prayer strips; I wondered how I’d made the cut, when I wasn’t a boy my father wanted, wasn’t a koi princess my mother said would magically turn her tail into a pair of legs. I looked for the fabled rabbits on the moon, a family of them taking turns to pound rice into pearly cakes along their dark, elliptical orbit.
Lineage matters, but thirst makes greatness possible. Carried across oceans, these vines have rooted on this shore, to live always on the edge of death. The vinedresser prunes tendrils and branches lifted in supplication, rationing water so that the vines bear their fruit in deserts of constraint. Now the globed sweetness is crushed for you, the burst skin returned to the earth, feeding tomorrow. The wine in the dark oak waiting, rises at last in the cup now lifted to meet this human thirst. It sings this moment in the mouth of the living.
Michael Izbicki grew up in a nondenominational church in California. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, he chose to go to the U.S. Naval Academy out of a sense of duty to his country during a time of war. At the naval academy he began to doubt whether the career to which he had committed himself could be squared with the tenets of just war doctrine. He got in trouble when he responded no to this exam question: "If given the order, would you launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?" After a four-year legal battle, the navy discharged him as a conscientious objector. Izbicki may have to reimburse the service for part or all of his education (New York Times, February 22).