The Forsythia in Bloom
Suddenly in the early spring evening the forsythia bush is aflame with light, a monastery with hundreds of cells.
Throughout winter’s darkness, these monks had gone to bed at the close of day, each having laid down his work or study, taken off his brown robe, and gone naked into his simple bed; and such is the seasonal penury of the holy men that no lamp or candle lit the way for themselves or for travelers who might have wandered there. On a February night, the monastery stood dark and abandoned-looking in the moonlight, and atop each slender tower is a Gothic cornice of buds silhouetted against the snow.
Now the edifice glows with thousands of yellow candles made of wax from drunken bees. The lights flicker in a breeze as the men roam the wood-lined halls and knock on the doors of their brethren, leaving the candles burning without a sense of shame, unremorseful in their pursuit of warmth and the touch of one another.
Sauerkraut’s Sad Little Tale
“I never meant to end up like this,” she said. The pale green clothing hid her features, and her reek kept me a table’s length away. When I walked in, the odor had hoisted me upside-down like a pig that was ready to butcher.
Her presence wound its way into my face: she never gave me a chance to ignore her. “You know,” she said — as though I’d asked — “I used to live up on the hill with my sisters Broccoli and Asparagus, the bitches. They always get everything: heirloom silver, fancy china, engraved napkin rings, you name it. They go to all the best places,” she continued, “while I get to hang out in this Alsatian inn. Accordion music! What did anyone ever do for me? Threw me as much shit as I could take. See this dress? Only one I ever had that was new: now just look at it.” And her dress was awfully shredded and tattered and washed-out, although it looked like it had once been a rich pale green color.
I dined on a big plate of choucroute and tried to ignore her, but her words wrapped themselves around my fork. I took a big swallow of Kronenbourg and looked at her again. She was a salty thing, all right: stringy hair, a sour look, a runny nose, little wens and imperfections that resembled caraway seeds. Still, she had something well-preserved about her.
“And what am I doing in this crock?” she asked, ready to supply her own answer.
“Wiping pig grease off platters. Getting chewed on by rude customers. I tell you…” she trailed off.
She didn’t tell me everything. Such as how, late into the night, she gave herself cheaply on these rough tables to any boor who had a fork and knew how to use it. And how, more than once, she had used a douche of brine to kill whatever she was afraid of conceiving. But there was something self-reliant about her, something earthy and unafraid, that I liked in spite of her bitterness and her sharp tongue. So I thought, “Let’s dig into this and see what’s there.” And I knew it was going to be trouble.
Its berries drift up from the earth like a colony of red coral, swaying in a current of breeze and rippled by the passage of a white-tailed doe. Had they the least suggestion of radiance, these sumac berries would be prized as rosary beads: gathered by poor devout locals, blessed by the parish priest, polished, pierced, and strung onto silver filaments, then packed and cargoed to a St. Vincent de Paul storefront in the city, and arranged in a glass case near a three-dimensional figure of Christ, thorn-crowned, who bleeds as you turn him to the light; the most perfect of the rosaries presented to the archbishop as an example of good works and the primacy of the Church over nature from now until the hour of our death, amen.
As it is, the dull surfaces of sumac berries resemble only a scarlet carpet stained and scuffed to a fuzz by people who wear the same shoes to church as to work, and these berries are worshipped only by finches and sparrows, whose sole authority is the power of winter, the absolution of spring.