Just this week my girlfriend and I were discussing our obsession with food. She loves to bake, I love to cook. She loves Top Chef, and has actually convinced me to watch this season in Washington, DC. (And by the way, while it’s certainly watchable, I pretty much hate everybody. As most of you know, I despise the majority of Reality Television. Over the years I’ve come to realize that it’s not just the fact that we’re rewarding laziness, in that writers no longer have to write. More so, it’s the people themselves, the so-called “stars” of these show who wildly overvalue themselves and take things way too seriously. You know, these people.) With that, we got to talking about food and film, and I happened to mention one of the most spectacular food-centric films I know of: Big Night. It’s a truly fantastic movie with an outstanding cast, and yet they’re somehow overshadowed by the food itself. I know it sounds like a difficult/odd concept to grasp, but damn if it isn’t true. I urge you to give a look if you haven’t already done so.
With that, I figured I may as well include a poem I wrote in grad school titled, appropriately enough, “Big Night.” Yes, it’s based on the movie. That is, it uses the movie as the springboard for the poem. This is a pretty common technique in poetry, really – writing about a film or painting or some other medium in order to get at your subject. In this case, my poetry workshop had been discussing the poetry of Ai (no, not Allen Iverson, you cretins, but the poet Ai, who wrote a ton of persona poems (poems in the voice of other people). In her case, she wrote many poems in the voices of famed celebrities (e.g., James Dean, Elvis, etc). With that, I wrote not a persona poem, but one based on a work of art, attempting to capture the persona of the film itself. Whether or not it worked, who knows. (Incidentally, Ai passed away in March of this year.)
When Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub wheeled the pig
out from the kitchen in Campbell Scott’s Big Night —
its flawless mouth choked around the apple as if
the apple had been born there — all breathing came to quit.
Even the women shut up and found comfort in silence,
their linen napkins collapsed in their laps. The guests
made room by scattering the upended bottles of wine
and champagne polished off during the salad course
and hors d’oeuvres, while Ken Cheeseman, recruited
to capture everything on film, forgot his camera
and missed the shot. His mind was someplace else.
He might have been thinking about his wife,
how she would’ve swooned for roasted pig, the ears
and snout caramelized and forever stiff. Perhaps he was
thinking about the narrow gap of air between the blouse
and bosom of Isabella Rossellini, who remained seated,
available, hands folded neatly and still. He might have
hoped the meal wouldn’t close, that this evening
was forever. A hope that morning birds and dew-slicked
side-streets were an eternity away. In the movies,
hope precedes the great fiasco. Sun-up threatens
every guest with the need to retire, to climb
behind the wheel and locate home. Then, of course,
the crash, the million bits of glass misshapen in the
driver’s seat, in the hair and mouth — shards that protrude
from the skin, puff the eyelids, cheekbone, and gums.
The tire won’t kill its spin, the ridiculous hum
like a TV screen at the end of its broadcast day.
There’s the photographer now: gagged by glass
in his mouth, stiff, body tossed from the car, cheeks ripped
and crisping to a bright red beneath the morning sun.