Thursday, July 7, 2011

“El Siete Mares,” a poem by Bradley Paul.

Post 619 - Bradley Paul was born in Baltimore in 1972. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Pleiades, Smartish Pace, Boston Review, and other journals. His first book of poetry, The Obvious, was selected by Brenda Hillman for the 2004 New Issues Poetry Prize, and his second book of poetry, The Animals All Are Gathering, won the 2009 AWP Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, the painter and writer Karri Paul, and their dog, Violet.

“El Siete Mares” by Bradley Paul.

Not Los Siete Mares.
Though there are seven seas
there is only one restaurant.
Octopus with Veracruz sauce.
Like pulp? Like from a tree?
Beaten and bleached into paper?
But what comes is not pulpo.
Nor is it takonigiri,
white ellipse with a purple edge
and wrapped with a green-black band,
pretty shapes and colors.
Nor meunière nor paillard nor confit.
They grabbed an octopus from the tank
and chopped it up and got it hot
and here in a mound on a plate
is a hot chopped up octopus.
There is saltwater still in its flesh.
My wife meanwhile
orders fried catfish,
which is a catfish thrown whole into oil
and brought out to stare at her.
Which is not how they do it
in Tennessee.
Can’t pretend now, friend.
You know you’re eating me.

Bradley Paul explains, "One day, I ate at El Siete Mares, a family-owned place down on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, and the scene described above took place. My wife grew up in Tennessee, and fried catfish there means a filet of catfish, breaded and fried in oil. The final product doesn’t even look like a fish. But the fried catfish at El Siete Mares is quite literally a catfish thrown whole into oil. When it’s brought out, it has a horrifying look on its face. The abstraction is gone; there’s no illusion that you’re eating something other than an animal that was alive a few minutes earlier and was then fried to death. It’s not a totally new experience — I grew up in Baltimore, so I’ve watched my fair share of live blue crabs go into a pot and come out a few minutes later with their eyes still in place, only red and covered in Old Bay (hell for them; heaven for me). In this instance, however, I think I was expecting one thing, while another, more scary thing arrived on my plate. Out of that jarring experience came this poem. Maybe that’s where all poems come from."

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