Saturday, December 10, 2016

America, my hair was on fire: an open letter.

Dear America,

I trust that you know how I feel about pumpkin pie, especially in November, especially made with a freshly roasted sugar pumpkin. This year, I ran across a recipe that called for maple in the puree, your usual assortment of ground spices, a chocolate crust, and--get this!--a brûléed topping. As in: get out your blow torch, which is always a good time.

Whilst preparing my offerings for the family feast, I mentally inventoried--as we all did, I think, America--the various political persuasions of my family members. I thought, as I pierced the skin of the pumpkin with the tip of a knife, perhaps we can all just agree--without ever saying so out loud, or in words--to talk about other things. I pulled the spices from their rack, and guesstimated the measurements, and thought, it'll all be fine. I thought,  I might lose it if someone says I have to be grateful for America. Because--no offense, America--America is really making me sad these days.

Before you get up in my face, America, let me just state for the record:

Well, never mind. It's an ugly list. I'm trying really hard to not pick fights--which, I'm not even sure that's a good idea--and you're just going to have to read my mind, America. Hear me out in a private hour. As Allen Ginsberg said, and he should know, "America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?" Except substitute sinister for silly.

Anyway, I did my thinking-and-cooking, my meditation-and-chopping, my pureeing-and-praying, as you do when the republic hangs in the balance. (America, this is quite serious.) I assembled my salad and roasted my cauliflower and put everything into sensible containers and carried it all out to the car. Oh, and I tested my blowtorch. It worked great. I brought it and extra fuel, for just in cases.

We had a beautiful dinner. I was touched that my dad asked me to say the prayer. My nephews and niece were there, and many children, and my sisters and brother, my mom and dad. Me and the historian. Everything was delicious.

Because I was full of sass, what with my fancy pie and the drama of a blow torch in the offing, I kept asking: is it time to brûlée the pie? Is it time now? How about NOW? And so forth. It was a little comedy routine and everyone indulged me. So when it came time for the brûlée-ing, lots of people came to the kitchen.

It goes without saying that, at precisely this point, my blowtorch decided to take a powder. I added more fuel. I clicked the switch--there was a flame, but it stopped as soon as I tilted the torch to get to work on the sugar. 

I consulted my nephew, the firefighter. We tested all the various switches and combinations thereof. Nothing doing. More fuel. Still no joy.

"I can hear the fuel," he said.

I clicked the switch--a quick flame, then a flame-out. "You can?" 

"Yeah, you can hear it when you tilt it," he said.

I clicked it as I lifted the torch to my ear and shook it a little. A collective gasp--at least that's how I remember it--went up in the room. I heard a cascade of your hair's on fire, Lisa, your hair's on fire, and then my nephew patted it out with his firefighter hands.

Just like that: my hair was on fire, and then it wasn't. And that will always be part of the legend of that Thanksgiving, with the chocolate crusted maple-scented pumpkin pie brûlée. It was delicious, by the way.

America, this may or may not be a metaphor. The fire in my hair, at least. I went back to school on Monday and didn't tell a soul, not because I somehow didn't want to, but because I forgot. I forgot that my hair had been on fire, but it was, and I'm telling you now. America, I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations. It's not exactly a good time right now, America, but it's time to talk about it. It's time to talk, and deal with the fire, and also--not to be trivial--it's time to share the meal that allows us to do all of that.

America, it's too late for all of that to happen at Thanksgiving this year, but Christmas is right around the corner,


(lines from Ginsberg's "America" are scattered, like grains of sugar before they're brûléed, throughout this post.)


  1. Well, I'm interested in what you've said. But right now I'm really interested in how you said it. Beautiful.

  2. Thank you for your art and the generous helping of love, in the form of worry, for our republic.

  3. I love this piece. Adrienne W.

  4. My god, the post's title wasn't just a metaphor! Glad you're OK.

  5. (gasp) Wow. You are still on fire. And I am ready for a second helping. Thank you for being a voice for me to hear.

  6. First, how did I miss this? You must text me when you blog!
    Second, this is so good, it's *almost* like talking to you. Almost. I miss you so much!
    Thanks for your words.



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