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The Elephants

Gravity and Grace, The Chicken and the Egg, or: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Claire Donato

On, she takes an 18-question online automated quiz to help determine if she should see a mental health professional for the diagnosis and treatment of depression. She scores a 54, indicating she is severely depressed. Is this before or after she cooks the meal consisting of the mint green bowl consisting of an orange carrot (unpeeled, cut in circles), red potatoes (unpeeled, thinly sliced), purple cauliflower (a deep violet color), cannellini beans (organic, canned, non-BPA lined), green kale (bunched with rubber), garlic (hardneck), garlic scapes (whose shapes resemble jewelry)? She imbues herbs and spices: basil, cumin, dill, mustard seeds, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. She boils a pot of water, places an egg in it. Clarice Lispector: “The egg is the chicken’s great sacrifice. The egg is the cross the chicken bears in life.” In the end, the egg—like love—cannot possibly exist. But, [like love], it does, possessing nothing.
           For three minutes, the egg boils. Then she removes it from the water with a ladle, ladles it into a bowl filled with water and ice. She lets it cool. Peels off its shell. Atop a second bowl, she pierces the undercooked white in its center with the skin of her finger. Is this what it means to destroy an object? Now the egg is vanquished.
          Cognizant she is performing a violent act, she penetrates the egg’s yolk, watches as it breaks open and spills. As the yolk separates and pours away from its white, she mourns the egg as she mourns England—a country that, just this morning, voted to separate from the European Union, a political assemblage of member states. Holding the egg, her heart, she hums the song whose lyrics are “desire’s a terrible thing / it makes the world go blind,” and mourns her own country, a clear liquid from which she too feels divided. [Love is also the deception of what one believed to be love.]
          [Excluding love], the list of her desires is as follows: fog, the ocean, a laptop computer, a vegetable garden, a brood of backyard chickens, a bonsai tree, bunk beds, a bicycle, to communicate with clarity and intention, to be scratched on a bench in a cemetery, and to better understand the incongruences between people that punctuate everyday life. [This does not make an honorable exception of love.] If she waits long enough, these desires float away into the imagination that fills the void, where she could go on breaking yolks—attaching her desires to concepts and objects, thereby murdering them—but her attention span is short; she can barely read. On the table, the mint green bowl emits steam. Its color invokes a hospital’s walls, a mental institution, a prison. In accordance, she types “stagnation” into the computer she uses to escape the world, but it’s too late: the sacrifice was made; the killing has occurred. And, as with all the worst things that change us, love persists as a sign of it.

In dedication to the vegan programmer, she prepares a pot of quinoa seasoned with yellow curry. What are you making, he asks, astride time and space. She lists the meal’s components: chickpeas (organic, canned, non-BPA lining), green kale (chopped into ribbons), an orange carrot (unpeeled, cut in circles), and garlic scapes (whose shapes resemble jewelry). As the kale steams, she juliennes basil, and trims a chive blossom until its amethyst petals cascade across the surface of the page, invoking a light onion aroma.
          In the next room, the vegan programmer is inventing a new language to make eggs float above imaginary planes. His language is a language that exists atop an old one, the function of which is to express the relationship between things, e.g. an egg floats in space as two whales float in space; or, a tree is grounded—so too is a house. The tree’s leaves are red. One whale is dead. And “a mind enclosed in language is in prison” (Simone Weil). A work of architecture, the quinoa sits under the kale under the chickpeas under the carrots under the julienned basil under the amethyst chive blossom petals under a pinch of chili flakes. Her architecture is sited in the mint green bowl the color of a hospital’s walls, a mental institution, a prison. His is in the grey bowl the color of a thunderstorm. At each bowl’s periphery rests three strawberries [he takes a photograph] whose stems extend far beyond the photograph’s frame. In an instant, he will alter the photograph’s size and upload it to the cloud. To do so is to detach the mind from language, to smear the berries onto conceptual boulders, and to wait.

She uses the sharpest knife to cut base ingredients—purple scallions (a deep violet color), ginger (the rhizome of a plant), garlic (hardneck), garlic scapes (whose shapes resemble jewelry). It is minutes before midnight on the day of incessant jackhammering outside her bedroom window, a metaphor for the alternative novel universe year she is taking one day at a time. So too is this the day her landlord enters her apartment without consent. In bed, she is trying to narrow the distance between herself and the computer—to show it she wants to be near it, to make it realize how special it is to her, to get it to love her back. Before her landlord knocks, he enters. On-screen, a friend types: Are you sure you aren’t the same?
          In the kitchen, her landlord studies the stove’s ignition. It burns blue but won’t stop sparking.
          Under separate cover, her friend types: A chicken has been killed by a fox.
          She pictures a fox hunting under the cover of darkness, tearing open a rabbit wire fence surrounding a brood of chickens with its teeth, gaining entrance, then grabbing a hen in its mouth and tearing it apart like tissue paper. The fox licks its lips, swallows the hen’s feathers [she who thought her feathers were to cover her precious skin]. Covered in its own blood, the hen is white and red. Now the hen is dead. There’s something erotic about it.
          She heats the base ingredients—purple scallions, ginger, garlic, garlic scapes—in sesame oil, covers them in a constellation of salt and ground pepper. As they heat in metal, the kitchen heats, and the wooden spoon that rests atop the pan heats. Concurrently, she fills a measuring cup with water, removes a container of miso from the refrigerator. Using the sharpest knife, she slices two leaves of green kale (organic, bunched with rubber), taking special care to carve away the spine.
          She is tired but takes care of the soup. She pours in two cups of water and stirs. She adds the kale and a variety of rich, naturally fermented soy sauce, a pinch of chili flakes, a cluster of bean thread noodles. When the soup is cooked, she pours it into the mint green bowl the color of a hospital’s walls, a mental institution, a prison. The bowl emits steam. Atop it, she gently plants bright blue and yellow flowers that bloom into a sentence: It is the innocent victim that can feel hell.
          Memory-content: when she was a hen, a fox took her in his mouth, tore her apart. “He’s terrible,” a creature laughed [and shrugged it off] before the tearing took place. Every day, she thinks: how could another creature say this? [That which is not felt by the criminal is his own crime.]
          First, the fox was surprised she was [redacted]. “Are you sure?” the fox said. “Of course I’m sure,” she said. “You make me [redacted],” the fox said. (Ironically, the fox was plant-based.) Each time she carves vegetables, she thinks of the fox, how he said: “[redacted],” a sentence she repeats in her head everyday. Only once did she repeat it outside of her head. She was eating dinner with a friend. They were exchanging rape narratives over miso risotto. They were crying on a log beside a lake. They were walking up a hill, exchanging necklaces. “Have you seen Claire’s Knee,” her friend asked. No, I haven’t. Is it a film about rape?
          Taking special care to carve away the kale’s spine, she admires the sharpest knife, how its metal reflects the light in juxtaposition to her life’s dark period. She imagines the horror of doing harm to the fox—stabbing it, gutting it, digging a grave for it, burying it. In her mind, she has murdered it so many times; all she wants to do now is forgive. It follows, perhaps, that she is as fearful of the knife as she is reverent: when she is done carving, she immediately runs the instrument under water, hangs it over the stove on the magnetic strip where other knives reside. If she forgives, she is an apologist; if she doesn’t, she is forever a hen. The tension between these ways of being in the world is directed both vertically and horizontally, and it remains unclear which direction to choose. To reconcile herself, she returns to bed, where she will sleep for hours and dream of being dead.

Claire Donato is the author of Burial (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2013), a not-novel novel, and The Second Body (Poor Claudia, 2016), a collection of poems. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in BOMB, Poetry Society of America, Encyclopedia L-Z, BOAAT, Fanzine, and Ninth Letter. At Babycastles Gallery, she co-curates WordHack, a digital language art series. She is a 2016-2017 Digital Studies Center Fellow at Rutgers University, and teaches in the Architecture and BFA Writing Programs at Pratt Institute and The School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons (The New School for Design).

This originally appeared on February 25, 2017