On Philip Levine’s “Salami”

“Stomach,” the seat of our most basic, precognitive desires (hunger) and responses (the “gut reaction”), aptly opens a stanza rife with the smells and flavors of Spanish cuisine. But if the stomach is the logical destination of the food being prepared, it is also the constituent stuff of the delicacy: this visceral stanza is populated by viscera (“stomach of goat, crushed/sheep balls”; “dried cat heart”) and other offal (“soft full/pearls of pig eyes,/snout gristle”). “Stomach,” collapsing the distinction between means and ends and therefore containing all of the poem’s excitement and confusion, is a perfect first word.

Like Freud’s unconscious, this salami knows no contradictions – in addition to the animal trimmings, this concoction contains various inedibles undoubtedly included by mistake (“worn iron of trotter”; “slate of Zaragoza”; “cock claws”), plant matter (“mountain thyme, basil,/paprika, and knobs of garlic”), and even the blood of its maker. In its modest way, this lowly foodstuff, exclusively comprising leftovers and accidents, becomes a universe in miniature that spans the farthest reaches of time, from the prehistory of paleolithic earth (the Zaragozan slate) to the unmarked, ever-present now of preparation.

All the world in a cured sausage… and this just the first of three stanzas.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
This entry was posted in contemporary poetry, Food in literature, Global South, Mediterranean, Spanish and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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