The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Mileage from a Boston Cream Pie

Rachael Conlin Levy

Granting a birthday wish consists of going the full length. If you start with the drums then end with dynamite, advised Henry Miller. Don’t sacrifice taste for the convenience found in a boxed mix smelling of chemicals and cardboard, which people must digest before they go to bed. No! Weary the muscles while stirring eggs and sugar into luscious pastry cream. Salivate over chocolate warmed to velvet. Inhale the toasty vanilla scent of the cake baking. The result is an oozy delight.

It’s fascinating to share in another’s cravings, even when the food that fires their appetite tastes like ash on my own tongue. The cake’s construction took days, and we spent more time relighting candles and singing Happy Birthday, not one, not two, but three times, than we did in eating the whole thing. But for a birthday I will ignore my own dessert palate of  chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and chocolate chip cookies, and work hard to satisfy the expectant tongues of others.

My thoughts are spreading. A food craving is easy enough to fulfill, but what about a word craving that sprouts in the eye and blossoms in the brain? I’ve been lusting over Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer,” a bawdy book with a muscular spine pumped up on testosterone. Even the pages are hairy. In an effort to possess what I desire, I read aloud whole chapters, contorting my tongue around the foreign sentences, and I copy paragraphs in order to force my hands to practice the unfamiliar movements. When I find a particular beefy sentence, I mimic it, experimenting with my own variations in an effort to make it intimately mine.

I took this line

 March came in like a frozen hare — but I was fairly warm in bed.

and began to play:

June came in like a suffocating blanket over my head — but I managed to keep breathing.

June wrapped itself in a damp, soured towel — but I stayed warm in a wool sweater.

June came in like a damp, soured towel, which I wrapped around my head and, unknowingly, curdled my brains.

My breath curdles with impatience as I wait for this month to end.

June came in on a cloud of anesthesia that deadened the light and failed to warm my skin, but I survived with a wool sweater and a continuous supply of coffee.

None of this is any good, but that’s the point, because I’m after process, not product, a familiarization of how Miller constructs his sentences so that I might internalize it. I consider marrying the different cravings by shredding his words and my words into paper strips that I masticate, then swallow, ink and vegetable taking up residence on the distant shores of my gut, a wish fulfilled.

7 responses to “Mileage from a Boston Cream Pie”

  1. Such juicy passion in your writing.

  2. Beth says:

    Wow! This is powerful, Rachael. Do you know the french in the song? Even if you don’t… the message is loud and clear.

  3. Rachael says:

    Beth, I don’t know French (wish I did!) and couldn’t find a translation of the song. If you could provide insight, I’d be grateful. Anyway, I like the song and dig the artist, Joann Sfar, who wrote and illustrated the graphic novel “The Rabbi’s Cat,” as well as a beautiful version of “The Little Prince.”

  4. Beth says:

    No, other than a few years of french in school, I’m basically clueless. However, I found this link to the translation- which makes absolutely no sense to me (ah, the brilliant french). I much prefer the ideas you presented in your post- playing with words, enjoying the process, swallowing love and passion, following our gut instinct and finding contentment with unexpected circumstances. Well, at least that’s what I took from it. 😉

    Now I’m curious about Joann Sfar. Thank you so much for sharing her work!

  5. Beth says:

    Oh, one more thing- it appears that the author enjoyed a play on words with this little song. How fitting! How did you know?

  6. Rachael says:

    Thanks, Beth, for that link. It appears to be a completely silly song, but I kinda like the idea of shoelaces being fairies and will share that with my 11-yr-old son whose laces are always flapping.

  7. Kyna says:

    Care to share your recipe for Boston Cream Pie?

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