À La Carte - Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Absorbed in the transparent music
of clinking glasses, I am slashed
back to the mundane by a waiter

handing me a menu ex cathedra
then slinking away as silently
as an espadrille-shoed ghost

Around me my seven companions
delve feverishly into the textual
mysteries of the folded card, fondling

its ridged paper expectantly
as they debate: chicken, fish or lamb?
I bear a crippled smile as I open

my pleated gift knowing I will be stumped
as I always am by the ambiguity
of culinary lingo; does seared tuna

mean cooked on high heat for three
or five minutes, on one or both sides?
This is why I rarely go to restaurants.

For the same reason I censor the news:
what makes an Iraqi victim unfortunate
and an American one tragic? What makes

Somoza an OK guy, and Castro a vile man?
Is it the same ghost that decides that
Che was a guerrilla, and the lobster is done?

Originally published in "The Makings of You", Peepal Tree Press, 2010. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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