I call up the man from Apulia to talk about how cheese is made from the milk of the Podolica cow. His accent staggers to me across the Atlantic through the glowing portal of my telephone’s face. Yesterday my bosses put me on a “performance plan” for April, after which I’ll likely be terminated. Winter dissolved in the fumey air listing around and above the buildings and towers of Chelsea. The cows’ trip from the Abruzzi to the Gargano promontory is called a transumanza, transhumance. They’re herded down tratturi, sheep tracks, even though they’re cows, by cowherds on horseback. Sometimes the cowherds sleep on their horses. I type the information into my work-issued laptop. Today I work at the cafe because the office is closed for a foodie event of some sort, Nigella perhaps. (Foodie, like morsel, tasty, fresh, and many other words, is on the company’s “banned words” list.) I write product descriptions for ramps, fiddleheads, morels, acrylic canisters, pizza peels, spades. The Podolica cow is the most direct living descendant, it is said, of Bos primigenius, the aurochs. The cafe’s pussy willows, laid out for Lunar New Year, have given way to red flowers I cannot name. The ceramic mug I drink from bears the images of a sleeping farmboy and bulls and bales of hay. To create caciocavallo podolico cheese, one must first separate a calf from its nursing mother. The mother will invariably return each morning to feed him or her, at which time she is milked. Upon being heated, the curds of this milk are kneaded and stretched, making them firm and elastic. Eventually the cheese is formed into the shape of a gourd, chilled, brined, and hung up to mature. Done working, I drift down Washington, Sterling, Classon, St. John’s, clenching my fiddlehead heart. A month and a week today is my birthday and by God you motherfuckers you can’t fire me I quit. Today, the Podolica lives only in Campania, Calabria, Basilicata, and Apulia, and is often cross-bred. Once upon a time my ancestors took a trip from the Abruzzi down to the sea and never came back. In the New World they married into Irish, into Ashkenazi families. Now here I am, myself herded down to this great magnet of a metal isle, clad in rainbow jacket over shiny blue shirt over flesh. I ate a bit of caciocavallo podolico with honey when the man from Puglia, Apulia, visited the office. It tasted, I don’t know, like cheese, like hard, sharp cheese, salty, savoury, and then the bite of honey.
I came home in the premature freeze wearing a plastic lei,
wallet somehow unlost. Above, the constellations, you-like,
uncloaked themselves, vaguely recalled their mortal lives.
You frog-marched the party to the basement, the bathroom,
and I followed you around because it was funny, but then
I sort of thought…what if? Can of Genessee you bought me
on my tab, neon trickling down your phone screen’s fractal
cracks. The codes we use when we mean to say the animal
things, eyelid Morse, the drugs we share. Even the tundra
of the week ahead conceals its own ridiculous end, that is,
there, again, with you. Don’t lay your hand on my shoulder
don’t invite me to your roof. Only keep being that disaster
you are, momentum with wake plausible enough to snag
myself on, dull fury distorting the field into brilliant flame.
The early-warning network shows two thousand Russian missiles on their way to us. Outside, the squirrels look pensive in the moonlight. Mr. Brzezinski lets his wife sleep. Over drinks, Leah and I talked about our irrational fears. Hers was being cannibalised. Mine was nuclear obliteration. That week the Homeland Secretary said if you knew
what I know about terrorism, you’d never leave the house. Well, sir, I’m trying not to. Unemployed, I spiral the nearby blocks, memorising all the fallout shelter locations. Yesterday two F-35s flew over Prospect Heights. Yesterday Liam said my windbreaker looked too 70s, which was wrong, it looks too 80s, besides you can never look too 70s,
who doesn’t want to look like Gregg Allman and/or Cher posed in sheer top or open jumpsuit, long hair swept aside into infinity…and all this, improbably, undestroyed. Brzezinski gets the call: false positive. His wife still asleep. I still unmade. The creative heat, science says, happened all at once, so that it did not as such at all really happen.
I am content not to know about it—the creation part. Rest, Brzezinskis, now & ever.
There will never be that fire upon us until there is. The happening will never happen.