Readings Used In Class Exercises

Readings / Performance Writing


I know what’s happening, see what’s coming, and try like mad to fight
it.  Tapioca simmers in the dented pot.  The Joy of Cooking says to
use a bain-marie but I say, bain-marie, my ass.  That Rombauer woman
never shopped at Goodwill a day in her life.  (He’ll be home in three
hours.)  I stir constantly, watch carefully because that’s what the damned
book says to do but any fool knows that the stuff is done when the
spoon starts to drag.

Tapioca has many lives, grows a new skin each time a scoop’s dug out.
Those beady little eyes—even though the cookbook insists on calling
them pearls—bounce from the box all dry and nervous and then the hot
milk leaches the starch out and makes a gluey mess.  The book says,
Never boil the pudding, but screw that: I love those thick, beige swells
exploding like volcanoes, the sound as the surface breaks, the smell of
burnt sugar at the bottom of the pot.

They tell you, Spoon the pudding into individual cups, but I put the
whole mess in a plastic bowl and watch it quiver as it slides into the
icebox.  The kids like to press little dimples into it, then lick their fingers
clean behind the icebox door so I won’t know who did it.  Me, I push
clear through to the bottom of the bowl and my finger comes out so
coated that it fills my mouth.

I leave the pot on the counter, won’t wash it for hours.  (Slob, he’ll say,
but I’m learning to ignore him.)  The residue dries into a sheet as sheer
as dragonfly wings and the kids will peel it off, laughing and drooling as
it melts in their mouths.  I can hear them yell now as they race up the
driveway, pitch their bikes against the gate.  The screen door slams and
in rushes the smell of them: sweat, cotton, soap, candy.

Girl by Jamaica Kincaid

Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don’t walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum on it, because that way it won’t hold up well after a wash; soak salt fish overnight before you cook it; is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?; always eat your food in such a way that it won’t turn someone else’s stomach; on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming; don’t sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn’t speak to wharf–rat boys, not even to give directions; don’t eat fruits on the street—flies will follow you; but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school; this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a button–hole for the button you have just sewed on; this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming; this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt so that it doesn’t have a crease; this is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have a crease; this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants; when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit; don’t squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know; don’t pick people’s flowers—you might catch something; don’t throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all; this is how to make a bread pudding; this is how to make doukona; this is how to make pepper pot; this is how to make a good medicine for a cold; this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child; this is how to catch a fish; this is how to throw back a fish you don’t like, and that way something bad won’t fall on you; this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man; and if this doesn’t work there are other ways, and if they don’t work don’t feel too bad about giving up; this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn’t fall on you; this is how to make ends meet; always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh; but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?

From Baghdad Burning:
by Riverbend

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Christmas Wishlist…
I have to make this fast.

No electricity for three days in a row (well, unless you count that glorious hour we got 3 days ago…). Generators on gasoline are hardly working at all. Generators on diesel fuel aren’t faring much better- most will only work for 3 or 4 straight hours then they have to be turned off to rest.

Ok- what is the typical Iraqi Christmas wishlist (I won’t list ‘peace’, ‘security’ and ‘freedom’ – Christmas miracles are exclusive to Charles Dickens), let’s see:

1. 20 liters of gasoline
2. A cylinder of gas for cooking
3. Kerosene for the heaters
4. Those expensive blast-proof windows
5. Landmine detectors
6. Running water
7. Thuraya satellite phones (the mobile phone services are really, really bad of late)
8. Portable diesel generators (for the whole family to enjoy!)
9. Coleman rechargeable flashlight with extra batteries (you can never go wrong with a fancy flashlight)
10. Scented candles (it shows you care- but you’re also practical)

When Santa delivers please make sure he is wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet. He should also politely ring the doorbell or knock, as a more subtle entry might bring him face to face with an AK-47. With the current fuel shortage, reindeer and a sleigh are highly practical- but Rudolph should be left behind as the flashing red nose might create a bomb scare (we’re all a little jumpy lately).

6 a.m. – Charles Bukowski

before the open window
sitting at the table
drinking tomato juice
the publicly unpardonable part
of my body
below the table
I watch
a man in an orange robe
and bedroom slippers
shit his dog upon the lawn
both of them
tempered by sparrows.

we are losers; even at high noon
or late evening
none of us dresses well
in this neighborhood
none of us studies the grace of high
successfully enough
to shake
ugly things away
(like needing the rent or
drinking 59 cent wine).

yet now
the wind comes through the window
as pure as a cobra;
it is a sensible time
either by
deepeyed cats
life insurance or
Danish kings.

I finish the
juice and
go to

Late November in a Field — James Wright

Today I am walking alone in a bare place,
And winter is here.
Two squirrels near a fence post
Are helping each other drag a branch
Toward a hiding place; it must be somewhere
Behind those ash trees.
They are still alive, they ought to save acorns
Against the cold.
Frail paws rifle the troughs between cornstalks when the moon
Is looking away.
The earth is hard now,
The soles of my shoes need repairs.
I have nothing to ask a blessing for,
Except these words.
I wish they were


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