« back  |   about ink & ashes  |   current issue  |   past issues  |   submission guidelines  |   contact  |   text size ( S : M : L )  
   
  volume 1. issue two  
 
Feature
A collection of poetry
by Patricia Wellingham-Jones

from Mongolian Art Exhibit

I turn a corner, stunned now by faces / on the wall—masks of deities, shamans, / in papier-mâché, carved wood, stuffed skin. / Black brows pull down over glaring eyes, / red mouths stretch in snarls or gentle smiles. (more...)
POETRY
Patricia Wellingham-Jones
Isabelle Ghaneh
Todd Heldt
Pamela Miller
Joan Dy
Lina ramona Vitkauskas
Michelle Bitting
Arthur Joyce
Adrienne Lewis
Anne Durant
Kathryn Ugoretz
Cheryl Stiles
Ellaraine Lockie
Arlene Ang
Ellen Wade Beals
JeFF Stumpo
Lita Sorensen
Andrena Zawinski
Rebecca Clark
Jim Coppoc
Carly Sachs
CREATIVE NONFICTION
Siri Steiner
Theodore Worozbyt
Hal Ackerman
VISUAL ART
Gretchen Skillman
Shawn Sargent
Rebecca Harper
Concetta Ceriello
Patrick Tucker
PRINT EDITION
Coming Soon! If you haven't already read our last issue click here to download the print edition in Adobe Acrobat portable document format.
MAILING LIST
Subscribe and stay informed on new issue releases, submission calls, and literary events.

A World of Onions
by Theodore Worozbyt

I will not move my army without onions!
~ Ulysses S. Grant


It's hard to imagine civilization without onions.
~ Julia Child


Onions are those roses which outlast the winter, becoming sweeter, until they finally succumb to their own succulence by releasing reseda sprouts. The world assumes the shape of a Copra onion, a slight swell at its equator. Onions, to my mind, are the truly heroic vegetables. No battle in the kitchen can be won without them, yet they make no claims for themselves, wage no wars, and require no decoration. Celery and carrots and turnips can be safely done without, but no soldier will enjoy an onionless chow in the mess. Onions are without cares; it is we in our carelessness who weep over onions, as it is we who make the mess, wage the wars, and require decoration. Like wish-dreams, onions are stored best in a dark place, cool and dry.

Without a gas mask handy, all so called remedies for onion tears are useless. When the clear blood of onions grows warm, tears will naturally follow. A highly volatile, sulphurous, and acidic gas is released from the northern and southern hemispheres (and this is the most peaceful way to divide an onion; east and west are in most cases more aggressive directions, perhaps because this is the direction of the planet’s turning). This gas attacks the mucous membranes of the unprotected eye. If you have no root cellar––and who is lucky enough in these times to have one not converted into a bomb shelter––use refrigeration to retard the release of noxious molecules into the mist, and leave the root end attached while you work. Learn to cut at the proper moment, with a quick stroking blade, and you will seldom shed a tear at the dismemberment of even the most vital and powerful rubine globe. Organic onions are the most powerfully equipped to cause pain, a reminder of our place in the schemes of things, and should be approached only from behind.

The onion’s outer skin, or flesh, is rosy or yellow or the palest vellum-white. We call especially thin and delicate paper Onion Skin, and we type upon it, or we used to. Nietzsche, that great philologist after whom all philosophy is a form of resignation, might have enjoyed peeling back the Latin of the English word: “unity, union, a kind of large pearl,” the OED discloses. On and On and Is, graphemes made into onions. Onions, I like to think, are an under-code, crisp and cipherous. Perhaps they are, instead of the nerve stimuli in the mind which produces the initial image, the truly first metaphor, since they arise from soil, not the etymologic folds of the loamy brain.

Ancient Egyptians worshipped onions, and regarded their concentric structure as emblematic of eternity. King Ramses IV, who died in 1160 B.C., was entombed with onions in his eye sockets. Other mummies have been found with onions standing in for the genitals and the feet. Egyptian slaves, doomed to die moving massive tombstones and knowing it, refused to work without their allotment of beer and onions. Now, as I write this, I am cooking onions in my electric oven, drinking an icy beer, and thinking what a reluctant mover of stones I would be, since I already have my beer and onions.

I might well be baking onions in the round, for pure worldly love, but I am not: my meal tonight is a domestic camper’s vegetable packet wrapped in tin foil, a heaping of carrots and celery and red-skinned potatoes and garlic and fleur de sel and butter and Vidalia slices, the onion of my home state, Georgia, which I miss, and where in the township of Pocataligo it is illegal to partake of onions while "lounging on bakery shelves.” Libyans, who recently reentered the world’s eye when Mommar Khadafi opened Libya to inspection for Weapons of Mass Destruction, eat the most onions, consuming 66.8 pounds of onions per person each year. I miss Libya as well, though I have never been there. Khadafi, presumably, misses his son.

Onions are melting with a brown sugary smell into the other vegetables and the kitchen air. My reaction or response to this aroma is profound; I experience not nostalgia for the steaming plates of my childhood at my grandmother’s table but immortal longings for the plains and vales and monuments of an ancient land whose name I do not know. This is the true historical being of the onion, the steaming primaveral taste that stems deeply into the collected chambers of the human mind. In all likelihood, our ancestors consumed onions before they caught the lightning’s tail. Mussolini is said, apocryphally, to have remarked that bombs dropped from great altitudes seemed to him the images of beautiful roses. Closer to the mark are onions. Great lashes of power have brought down whole cities, nuclear blooms that resemble quite strikingly the flowers that give rise to onions.

The very best onions, I must say it, are not those watered with bottles of Vichy, but they are French, and this is fitting, since the onion achievef its present royal status only when Stanislaus I, the former King of Poland (twice abdicated) and later Duke of Lorraine, popularized French Onion soup. Antonin Carême, the great chef for whom the process of caramelization is named, recorded first this delicious outpouring of sugars not from ripe berries or fruits or canes, but from the onions roasted by peasants over hearth fire. From these onions came the bursting drippings of sugary juices that blazed the coals, sweetened the humble room, and inflamed the imagination of the maestro.

Onions are for me the common binder of those clashing loves that friends and lovers alike feel towards one another, and perhaps for each other as well. Onions, like any marriage of soil and air, are a daily office. Julia Child and I, before time took her to the onion fields where Paul waited so long with his basket, were perfect strangers on a street, but I share still in the secret of her queenly soubise. If you and I were to meet, our mutual strangeness might be unperfected, but let us both hope it’s not in Blue Hill, Nebraska, where any woman wearing a "hat which would scare a timid person" is forbidden by law to consume onions in public. Nor would I wish to break bread in Wakefield, Rhode Island, where sharing one’s onions with a friend over a café luncheon is strictly verboten. (Put away your spoon in Okanogan, Washington if you are onion-hungry: that utensil will land you in the clink.) A better turf on which to assess the civilizing effects of onions is Bourbon, Mississippi, where local codes require that each glass of water served in a restaurant be accompanied, discreetly, by “a small onion.”

The enormous Sago palm maggot, which in some parts of the world is both a staple and a delicacy, is usually fried in coconut fat, and eaten from a bowl made of a leaf; you and I most likely will not have eaten it before we die. But those who have and do, they eat the universal onion. Planets mimic stars, and stars are as atoms against the vast and immeasurable deeps of the cosmos. Scientists tell us that pondering the newest view of the past captured by the Hubble telescope, the Ultra-Deep Field_an image of immensity so unfathomable that it inspires not even wonder or vertigo but simply a rushing blast of astonishment_that pondering this map of the beginning is akin to looking at the sky through an eight foot drinking straw. Smaller still are onions than the stars, but no less vitally in their fields of soil do they agitate and swell. At the core of some onions we find a bright curlicue of green, a comma, a comet’s spiraling cone. Garlic is old when we see this in a clove, but in the onion! It may well be that its hidden green is fresh from the sun, burgeoning, gorged on its own sugars.

Every part and parcel of the onion is useful, including its fibrous roots, whose flavor is unpleasantly bitter and should not be infused into a liquid, but are fine fodder for the compost heap, where all of us one day unwillingly, soldier and statesman alike, will go. Any other casting from the knife is sheer flavor, the outer skins of yellow onions being particularly good for developing rich color in strictly vegetable stocks. I do believe, too, that their relative proximity to the soil is expressed in a mineral flavor that one does not find in the crisp interior, which is younger, and therefore less complexly composed. The greens of spring onions brighten to true emerald when exposed to the slightest heat, but lose all color and flavor when cooked for more than a few seconds. A sprinkling of fine scallion rings over Basmati rice perfumes and flavors the dish equally well in India or Pakistan. Never murder an onion by boiling it.

The fullest flavor of the onion can only achieve declension through the slowest and most methodical methods of cooking. Slivers attain their perfection through a long stirring and observance. A delicious soup, if you persist in patience with your cookery, may be made of nothing but onions and water and a knob of butter, a grinding of salt and pepper. To make a soup of onions, slice them evenly thin, and simmer in the fat and rendered juices for at least forty minutes. The best plan is to spend an equitable hour, staring and stirring until a deep nutty brown is achieved. Satie is a fine accompaniment to this meditative process, and of course a quiet bell, a glas, of dark red wine. A glug into your onions deglazes the crystals from the pan and adds richness both of hue and taste. Serve with hot bread and a green salad tossed with the best olive oil. But don’t get caught in Peewee, West Virginia eating onions while sitting in the cemetery. To eat them there, you have to lie down.



Theodore Worozbyt has received grants from the NEA, and the Georgia and Alabama Councils for the Arts. His poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Hotel Amerika, Image, National Poetry Review, New England Review, The North American Review, Northwest Review, Passages North, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, Smartish Pace, The Southern Review, and Verse Daily. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Literature from The University of Alabama, where he currently teaches.
Print Page