If Wang Wei Lived

Ivy Raff

                      “As the years go by, give me but peace,
                       Freedom from ten thousand matters.
                       I ask myself and always answer,
                       What can be better than coming home
                       -- Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei

If Wang Wei lived in
COVID-era Detroit,
his Saturday would go
a little something like this:

Wake up and tumble into the arms
of his lover
bodies like baking bread,
rising and steaming
Set out for Eastern Market
masked, anonymous, floating
between the vendor stalls
languid conversation with the mycology expert
Quiche this week,
Wang would say,
Tell me, what variety of mushroom would you recommend?
A brown bag of wood ears purchased
plastic bulk sacs from Rocky’s Original
filled with hard kernels of pine nuts
mini chocolate chips for cookies
powdered ginger smelling of strong tea.
From the Ann Arbor-based cheesemonger,
all things unctuous,
a variety in silkiness,
a palette of creams and straw yellows
and navy veins.
Home now.
help from Wang’s lover to carry the heft,
a peck on the cheek in the elevator,
a flash of remembrance in his umber eyes
Wang and his lover are remembering
where they dropped their fishing lines
this morning
Prepare the meal
Grate the Ann Arbor cheese into
mounds impossible to not pick at
while water boils and butter melts.
When the butter is amber in the pan,
the flour spoons in, stirs through,
matures into paste.
Cream a bit at a time, smoothing
the roux into bechamel
The spices now:
Cayenne for kick
Nutmeg for just-perceptible
sweet depth
Black pepper and salt
and paprika for richness, smoke.
Garlic powder and onion powder:
Wang Wei, surely, appreciated nothing of his future colonizers
but their flavor profiles.
Mounds of cheese tumble off cutting board and
into spiced bechamel.
Sauce becomes thick and slow
The cheese is the magic.
Pasta drops into salt water.
Wang remembers the wisdom of his noodle-pulling ancestors:
The pasta never waits for the sauce
The sauce waits for the pasta!
So the sauce waits
While the crevices of the
soften in their time.
The pot tips out into the strainer
Wang’s lover holds the strainer over the sink
every Saturday,
leaning back for fear of splatter,
face a corkscrew.
Pasta into sauce,
a tale as old as Chinese time.
Stir through.  the sauce invades
the crevices
ekes in
Creamy pasta time! yelps Wang’s lover
exactly this pleased every Saturday
They eat.
They discuss the evening ahead,
the family goings-on: niece’s virtual schooling and auntie’s hospital
discharge, lungs cleared
Wang’s lover is disgusted with the ineptitude of his
managers at handling COVID protocols
They fall to silence behind the words
letting the cream delight on their tongues
Dishes rinsed and in the machine
Wang is pleased
that after this most peaceful, tumbly day,
he needn’t wash
so much as a measuring cup.

Rocky's Original Peanut Co. has been in Detroit's Eastern Market since 1931.

The great 8th century Chinese poet, Wang Wei, was an inspiration to Ezra Pound among others.