by A.B.

the wooden table creaks beneath the sordid weight of slaughter.
boar’s eyes glassy, beseeching mouth stoppered with an apple,
round red sphere of death.

nutmeg, fennel, aniseed
besmirch the flesh, remind the guests of fresh blood spilt for this delight.
they paint the scarlet liquid on their faces,
drown themselves in basting oil,
gravies, juices boiled,
revelling in gluttonous grease and grace.

the garden, pelted now by rain, overlooked by indoor merriment,
was earlier violated for its green and leafy herbs.
dill debased, basil and burnet befouled –
there is true sorrow for the sorrel’s spoliation.
the sky cries for them, each stuffed into a carcass, drowned alive in bubbling broth.

comfits, cakes, cold cutlets, chops,
a calf’s foot jelly wobbling, sick.
now mutton basque basking in the heat of joy,
exuberance’s sweat, the sudor of elation.
a mother, simmered, tough –
lamenting her loss, her little lambs,
bleating lonely from another dish.
the ladies adore those cotton pips,
love them enough to slice through skin, let earnest blood run out,
gorge themselves on corpses sweet and small.

Swiss rolls, an Oxford John, Turkish delight!
Naples Chops (à la Français),
a Scotch oyster beside a Gloucester rabbit,
hit dead and dry.
haggis too, from highland hills to haunt the table.
offal offered up, a sacrifice of sanctified entrails.

the king of the display
(attended by herons in vegetable uniform,
cabbage caps upon their heads,
delicate necks broken by cutlets and green grapes):
peacock in panoply.
skinned, roasted, suffocated in egg-yolk brighter than the sun it grew beneath,
swung and strung,
sewn back into its own mutilated skin.
cooked cadaver, zombified,
mouth and gums, saliva bride.

plovers, fieldfares, larks did sing;
now chant a song of hissing steam,
of fizzing juice and currant cream.
lobsters crimson as rosy cheeks,
oysters choking in the leaden air,
pikes and trout and swordfish wilting,
choking on the streaming butter sliding down their lonely throats.
stunted melodies like buried blackbirds
entombed inside a pastry cave.
the honest feather tongues of oxen ripped away,
shredded vocal cords a product: ropes that fray.
sorbet, soufflé; the table purvey.

mallard drake, river-tide general,
trussed and topped with honour badges of Christmas chutney.
and pheasant pleasant to march beside,
lieutenants lying as though they’d died.

the cook is proud,
seven swans hanged by her bright fair hands,
river queens dethroned and dressed,
goose galantines to gander at, and fricasies,
and collops, kids and kidneys,
hell-waters summoned to damn the herbs and not-so-paltry poultry.
the cookbooks are, to her, philosophy…
the poetry of the kitchen.
each line pored over, absorbed like fat,
ink of well-thumbed pages smudged by lovely lard.
sweat running down the channels of her face,
mingling with mist from broiled and boiled cods and dace.

the master of the house surveys the spread;
an estimable task.
the technicolour piles of food climb up,
as if to seek salvation from their squalid opulence.
a stag he killed this morning,
flesh, muscle, venison pie.
antlers on the wall, faint scarlet stains besmirching,
an ornament, an ode to spigot hearts.

the kitchen boys too; slavering behind rough palms.
flummoxed by the flummery,
bewildered at the spectacle banquet,
the capacity of culinary pressure.
they’ve each selected a jewel from the feast,
a leftover diamond to win:
a treasured crown of turkey for one,
or a partridge hung from pear-tree heights.
another’s satisfied by a plucky pigeon;
it roamed the streets, pecking crumbs, as did the sooty bird it craves.

hams greater than a thousand fists,
a slab, a mortuary of mincemeat and molasses.
garbanzos and haricots: biblical beans which bubble and squeak.
a hotch-potch of Hodge-Podge, Hot-Pot and pie,
rabbits’ livers,
hare with pears,
heart of quail and kidney of duck.
a witch’s potion, a brimming and gurgling cauldron of carnivorous power.

pig shin with olives,
brain cakes and brie,
sweetbreads sharp and pink.
fowl fouled by a black bullet – a faint bitter taste
commemorating the shot,
the dishes gained, the heartbeats lost.

tripe common and coarse (in the kitchen, of course),
spatchcockered chicken and langoustine jelly –
jaunemange, fried succotash, syllabubs, sherbet –
each sugary ton on the tongues of the people,
evaporating into saturated air,
raining down in cloying mists,
icing powder snow, enveloping morsels in mawkish drifts.

a smaller set of victuals nearby.
the little girls and boys so neat,
tiny plates loaded up with gingerbreads and sugarloaf.
Toffee soldiers, fairies cramming sugarplums,
treacle puddings and violet macaroons,
their dainty dresses straining at the seams as tummies round protrude.
a youthful education for the ones they will become –
veal escalopes a favourite with the human calves.

almond cakes, a ginger snap,
apple amber drenched in caramel seas,
pale blancmanges,
cheesecakes, juleps,
butterscotch filberts!
cox’s pippins stewed with hearty dates,
albert pudding islands recumbent
in raspberry saracen ponds.

tarts for the tartlets,
French fritters to enhance the frippery.
trifling desserts, bonny Benitas,
Devonshire creams fit for the Duchess.

the ladies laugh intolerably,
failing to outdo the food in saturated silks,
hair grasping for the stars and faces powdered
heavily, headily.
drunk on cinnamon, intoxicated with marigold wine,
lips dyed ruby with strawberries ripe and red,
with bloody hearts and broken berries,
lipsticks if ever there were.
they lick their fingers of marmalades and damson jams,
of sugar paste and stickiness,
plumb confiture and marchpane.
these gooseberry fools laugh loud and well,
gleeful in their gluttony.
they laugh.

those satiated souls dragged deep to hellish chasms by the burden of their bellies,
their entrails Satan’s true delicacy.
they’ve retired – not full –
for claret and port,
brandishing brandy
and syrup liqueur.

quiddanies, quinces,
angelicas bright and heavenly.
sent from God, a gourmet gift,
wise men dropping in some barberries,
almonds, candied cherry,
a marzipan star to guide them.
they followed it in sweet crystal astrology,
the promise of peppermint awaiting.
the shepherds nougat did donate,
(sheep stolen from behind their backs and open palms
to make that mutton pie).
there was no Jesus, but a great stuffed turkey
in a porcelain manger, swaddled in juices and spice.

they worship with fervour,
they feast.