Charles Simic

1938 / Belgrade

Eastern European Cooking

While Marquis de Sade had himself buggered—
Oh just around the time the Turks
Were roasting my ancestors on spits,
Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther.

It was chilly, raw, down-in-the-mouth
We were slurping bean soup thick with smoked sausage,
On Second Avenue, where years before I saw an old horse
Pull a wagon piled up high with flophouse mattresses.

Anyway, as I was telling my uncle Boris,
With my mouth full of pig's feet and wine:
"While they were holding hands and sighing under parasols,
We were being hung by our tongues."

"I make no distinction between scum,"
He said, and he meant everybody,
Us and them: A breed of murderers' helpers,
Evil-smelling torturers' apprentices.

Which called for another bottle of Hungarian wine,
And some dumplings stuffed with prunes,
Which we devoured in silence
While the Turks went on beating their cymbals and drums.

Luckily we had this Transylvanian waiter,
A defrocked priest, ex-dancing school instructor,
Regarding whose excellence we were in complete agreement
Since he didn't forget the toothpicks with our bill.
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