National Poetry Month Spotlight: Marcela Sulak


Sealed inside this yellow peel, beneath the heavy
clouds they call white skin, the wings
are bound and pressed. So when she feels the knife
she quivers, when the skin’s peeled back, oh ecstasy.
Yet when the wings are lifted out, they’re different
than they were before; instead of wind they’re filled
with water, sweet and bitter, each feather fitted
to a narrow juice-filled sac.
………………………………………They look like
the hands of an unripe bride, pale from waiting
in the dark, long slender fingers reaching,
ever unmet. Even if they were to dry a little
in the sun, like cicadas falling out before
they grow into their souls, these wings
won’t rise—they left in such a rush.  And she
has never learned wane and billow, what has tides,
and what a spoon is for.  The wet pomelo feathers
wink like the seven hundred eyes of flies
and scatter like dew, and here she is,
opening her mouth.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: I was sitting in the kitchen in Tel Aviv one morning in March. I’d just gone to the Shuk Ha Carmel, the largest outdoor market in Tel Aviv, where they sell everything from tea towels to jewelry, from cleaning supplies to rubber duckies. But mostly they’ve got all the local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. I bought a pomelo, which is an enormous, awkwardly shaped citrus fruit with a quarter-inch rind. It was my first encounter with this beast of a fruit. The juice sacs were so large they seemed to have a life of their own.  I’d never seen anything like it. It smelled like heaven. I began a draft of the poem that day. Originally I’d wanted to work in the fact that the pomelo is the ancestor of the common grapefruit, and that Israeli agriculturists are rethinking the citrus crops they’ve been planting, because they use up too much water. They’re experimenting with different kinds of African fruits and vegetables that seem to be more compatible with the dry and hot climate of Israel. However, the initial impact of the physical fruit on me was so powerful I couldn’t work with abstractions and facts. So I let the sensual experience of the fruit guide the poem.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: Since I’ve recently moved to Israel, I’ve wanted to read more Israeli writers, and I’ve been drawing inspiration from Dahlia Ravikovitch; her newest book in translation is “Hovering at Low Altitude. The Collected Poetry.” I’ve also been extremely moved by experimental work as Deborah Bernhardt’s “Echolalia,”  and Lynn Emanuel’s “Hook and Noose.” They’re  reshuffled my mind, so that the physical world feels as if it has acquired a couple of new dimensions.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: The most sublime meal I’ve ever eaten? When I was 26 I was teaching Spanish in a German-Czech bilingual school. My colleague was a French woman named Sophie—we were both living in the boys dormitory, for some reason.  Anyway, she invited me to Paris for the winter holidays. So we went to Cannes for New Year’s Eve. The party was insufferable, and we had too much to drink. We took the 4 am train back to Paris where her father had prepared a dinner that was so exquisite I had to restrain myself from moaning aloud with every bite. It may have been the contrast to Czech dorm food; it may have been the dull party the night before, that gave the meal that hungry edge (I’m thinking of the platitude that hunger is the best sauce). But everything was so fresh you could almost smell the soil it came from. We started with smoked salmon, capers and bread, paired with a wine I hadn’t the sophistication to remember at the time. Then an artichoke soup, fresh asparagus and butter, grilled fish. Well, I’m a vegetarian, so I can’t even explain the main courses. But the mousse followed by cheeses and the wine pairings were ecstatic.

The most spectacular meal I’ve ever witnessed (I use the term “spectacular” as in “spectacle,” since I’m a vegetarian and keep a kosher diet) happened in a small village in the wine region of Hungary at a wedding. Really I felt like I was in a Dostojevsky novel. The meal was eight courses. It began at around 6 pm with wild game soup (and wild mushroom soup in heavy cream for me), followed by hot pickled vegetables, then game birds of various species in assorted poses.  There were many things in the middle, but the climax was a couple of carts featuring piglets with apples stuffed in their mouths, which were wheeled around the room a few times. In between the courses was dancing. The bride changed clothes three times. At some point we adjourned to a chocolate fountain. There were cheeses. The penultimate course was a wedding cake cut outdoors with a sword while fireworks exploded. Since I was 5 1/2 months pregnant, I was not able to stay awake for the final course at 6 am.

Other meals of note for their sheer strangeness are described in my book, such as the stew made spicy by the venom of ants on the Brazil-Venezuelan border, and the squid served live on the plate in Japan to guests who were expected to snip tentacles off with scissors and then swallow.

Marcela Sulak’s poetry collection Immigrant is available for purchase from the Black Lawerence Press website.