Search View Archive



          That last sentence rose to the surface of the vat during fermentation. Sorry no, the sediment, so bottom-heavy with culture once the slurry’s now abob.  In the fluid agreement between  tongue, stomach and frontal lobe, keep stirring and it thickens. Here is a photo of my actual strand of thought! Look at it. Close-up? yes, only carefully because I don’t want to close this world wholly in. Rubber life in a stopper bottle. No sign of flow.  Extract.  Specimen type. So I brew a new batch of mucous tea (mother hovering on the surface over the rest of our soggy brood) and it gives rise to a gamy flavor taking shape in my mind now as when a thick humid August afternoon pungently marinades in its scent and temperature I liken the tea anthro-po-morphically to  the smell of dirty sweet feet, remembering a homeless man I’d seen on the subway with crusted black socks or crushed sopping sponges smelling animal.  Rotted orchid strongly of hide. And he trying to ride drowsily through the whole subway car’s length of his stink before I, a rider on the other side, with two others, had to get up & exit.                                                O-
dor. Ancient and familiar. Now enraged bubbles rise from a point on the bottom of the glass vial where a speck of yeast has fallen, a few at first, and then in groups, charged to combination until the bubbles form a single, steady stream of fizz jetting up its volume of air and white foam until rippling across the surface forms an effervestige, which could also be the reason for our dissolution like a sentence, abob again. I could explain this better but I am inhabited by the very germs I want to write about growing at a rate that makes it hard to keep up, primordial monads trembling mucous in the breath. Afraid at the very moment I open my mouth to express myself insides not only do I fail but you smell the halitotic wafts come and empty me.  Congeals. This work will go on, if I can go on, but misplace one damn Greek letter & I get inhibited no, suddenly inhabited by living specimens spore over our foods spoil in heat. Get close to me. Breeze. I.  I error.  He in the heap
Now leave this open and turn the pages by leaving it long enough the pages’ exposed surfaces turn into a medium for bacteria to grow on, which is all I think this work should be followed by a full stop and sip of wine. Cheese maybe. Filthy-sweet yeast alive. I tap into this vital ooze to write in long lines imitative fermentative, to writhe out linked strains ploddingly as if through the large intestine. But not that. Stop trying to put into words all these fissive reactions girthed beneath the cover skinscape and undershrub like canals opening into caves and marvels a borehole. Perhaps things are hidden for a reason. Cram-up the bank. Crump. Stinkhead. I’m sorry, “stinkhead” is the English word for an Alaskan delicacy called nakaurak Inupiat people bite off the head of a salmon & squeeze out the tart guts. Rot this in a pit until gristle dissolves completely. Is to want to preserve a culture.  But is to preserve a culture by writing it down the desire to kill it, dumb diorama of some artifacts?
For example, a danger in terms of a stranger meat. Scandinavian grav-lax means “grave salmon”— at least that’s the way fluid spurts through the mouth in the English translation of it, words I gulped to be here.  I thought this meat could be cured by salt nitrates so it wouldn’t decay but burying the salmon in a two-foot deep grave I realize death is also a kind of preservation, then. A fact, on account of pathology being a path where the past is formed as posthumous depiction. I ate gravlax only before I knew that. Swimbladder & headcheese sour over the years until soft & cartilage walls of their hepatic cells burst oil through shells dissolved in whey drained from skyr & other solid forms of milk called syra.  In Iceland Syra is a medium for preserving fish, even though the word literally means “sour food,” some mush. We pride ourselves on being civilized people, but then the words turn completely different there among the  blossoms, cultivated white Linden trees in New York today smell like clean semen, a big picnic blanket which is called a chicken sandwich by some other figure of language, come and spread it out. All the uncertainty I have with which to also know what to do with what Ive lived. A fresh little sapling who at the very moment of being devoured has been betrayed by her freshness, or like the preparedness of one who is sick because she dies finally of being ready, thud from the tree. How “ripemeans dew-skinned, a peach ready to be plucked and eaten fresh off a pink stem in summer plus roquefort that smells like the stench of deceased skanky underwear. A blackened peach gets sweeter as it decays, and how can that be? A gauge, can hardly taste it, plague. This thinking is keeping me confined logically and I need to invent a new form to escape. My tongue burrows inside for a confirmative taste but my own culture is bland edited filtered through the process of Western progress and interior refrigerated feeble chill. If the peach were any greener I wouldn’t eat it. For fear of turning feral
To test this, your finger should come away clean and the porridge bounce back. The chemical reagents causing fermentation couple, many baffling catalytic reactionson their own unknown to us living in connectivity’s slime of these daily lab conditions we can’t live outside of. I spread. As if unwrapping cheese from its wax but so oozy the cheese nearly unwraps itself entirely before I can finish, then my stomach seems nearly to unfold open on the countertop, spilling over it, the smell of the cheese is so ripe.  I see it.  Nearly taste by sight
I stand here in study under whose eyes have mounted me. Speck sense of self. Wine & cheese hors d’oeuvres, ordure symbiosis; each drop from the stopper bottle continues to trickle, only it’s impossible to describe the corresponding feel of this sentence without simply repeating the sentence, let it ferment in its own cellular bile for a few weeks collecting enough to clot finally it becomes an impasse one is forced to flow through— I have a primordial head, no, a headache now, but thank you for coming, by drips, trickle accurately, like a tremendously exciting buildup of pressure mounting, only then amounting to a small, bubbling conclusion in the wine.  As if a rush of bubbles to the surface were the form of this feeling’s conveyance…
A cool, level-eyed scientist evinced by the rigor of his experiments whose results he perceives repeatedly. And repeating himself endlessly recrudescent like trance, dancing piston or the relapse of a disease, he forms the same prick of acid every time anew. This takes concentration: Highly concentrated: MUST DILUTE! His calcul-ululations. To turn the findings into a drug. Probes, doped on information gone into flavorless capsules for easily swallowing each of us filled, -illing our vacant intercellular spaces with what results the experiments have left. Bunged in bilebrine. Implicit in this is the following hypothesis: every anaerobic cocci will react the same regardless of place, epoch, or time of the month, every time he (the scientist) stuffs it in an airless vat of acid or enzymes a procedure braided with sugar to make wine...but what if the germ doesn’t want to? Eat. I mean what if the bacterium loses her appetite? It’s odd to call a yeast a “consumer” as if to consider it a customer in brewing an erratic process that precedes us by a billion years, having passed. Or pass the test, as if every 7 day week is wrought by science “to order,” not by chance. Life should be inexplicable as ritual. Even though the scientist believes he constrains microbial behavior in act to man’s will we can’t assign roles beyond what the species of yeast & bacteria prescribe, just eat-ing. “Under study,” as if mounted by the scientist staring down: large, stern, undissuadable. An understanding. Exfoliated smear stained on the slide.  Of this slice of life
So. Ripe roquefort teeming lacto cultures feasting lactic acid leaks out of wax rind & paper an unman-ageable festooning.  Feety savour. Green & stinking harsh from rennet enzymes derived toreplicate the digestion of mother’s milk curdling inside the fourth abomasum stomach of infant ruminant animals, whose pungent rennet opens from wax paper like a stomach agape. I can’t tell whose stomach I smell,  mine own or the calf’s, only I relish with disgust the pungent faintly foetal terroir, has swelled. Hard crust. Blue veined. The cheese smells ripe, and the feeling of being alive a falser verity no a vaster farcity comes fecunditously close to that, ready to drop as a little tub-fleshed plunk drips whiffed from the lip. Gutted skipjack viscera & roe split with abdominal salt then packed the head back into pickle       
Badly decomposed but edible delic-acy of inhabitant diet over Philippine archipelago. Shrimp with rice, balao balao. Bacteria in-carnating crevices between each of the six overlapping shell segments of long abdominal carapace and splayed tail fan of the decapod crustacean microcellularly strangulated to devour its core of fungible white meat and breed in the interspaces between white buds of rice packed tightly in an earthenware jar then covered for two weeks to ferment at tropical jungle room-temperature. Mix with salt and leave overnight. Cut antennae. Drain. What a relief. Too acidic for putrefying cocci of foreign strains to rot the fish but the dish still smells dead to an outsider, puckering embittered at the mucky gelatin shell entangled with dregs of soupy rice however else the people name it. Give it a nice, soothingly polite name that rolls right off the tongue like Icelandic “surmatur” which means “stinkhead” here, reveals the fish unflatteringly.  A foreigner is hard to stomach.  We find it hard I mean. Fooled by the smell of food, believing it inedible. This is an unending. The best translation of this I can find is grave, meaning decomposing. So what happened was I hid, safely from death, and became flavorless, I hid the apple and peach in the refrigerator till I knew I wouldn’t miss what flavor the refrigerator’s white, interior coldness had reft from them, pruned skin, and then the other hand fruits. Brain no longer in head




Alex Batkin

ALEX BATKIN has an MFA in poetry and is currently studying acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. He lives in New York.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 15-JAN 16

All Issues