“When he brought the chicken into the hotel lobby he became embarrassed, not wanting the staff to see, so he stuffed it inside double-breasted serge and went up in the lift reeking of spit-roast.”
—Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
“I had also been given a roasted chicken…. But I had no knife, no fork, no plate…. I ate over the wastepaper basket, aware as I did so of the smell…. In my diary I had written of the biggest things, the things that befitted a writer. But the writer of the diary was ending my day like a peasant, like a man reverting to his origins, eating secretively in a dark room….”
—V. S. Naipaul, The Enigma of Arrival
Of Departure: Chicken à la King
Of Arrival: Chicken Cacciatore
Of Return: Chicken Tandoori
But why did the chicken leave its roost? How did the chicken lay a golden egg? What were the chicken bones doing in the trash? Who, after all, had caught the chicken on the run? And who, but, but, confound it, found the egg?
Duck, duck, duck, duck, goose: ’twas Goose who laid the golden egg. Duck and Chicken took it on their frigate out to sea, became themselves thereafter fowlmix takeout fricassee. Cacciatore spoke in à la King to Giorgio escaping a conscription with some loose change beneath Nostalgia for the Infinite on unframed canvas in a red caboose.
In his painting on the hotel wall, but, but, de C’s great egg casts forth a shadow on the two young men, Mister A and Mister B. The egg is very large and the men are very small. They gesture at each other, but they do not speak. Paintings do not speak. They look like this or look like that. Speakers speak, but not like A and B. The egg continues casting shadow when the men walk out beyond the frame and then along the wall and out the door. Gone beyond their calling, their gestures still remain. They were peckish. And so they waved their arms like wings
and flew. A little bit. The clue of it, a clew. [1. Greek Mythology: The ball of thread used by Theseus to find his way out of the labyrinth. But also necessary if you want to fix your sail as you come about. But A and B: They haven’t got a clew.]
3. Chicken à la King
In the little room were no silver-bright and monogrammed utensils. The dresser drawer contained no Yoruba Ibejis or a small statue of Ganesh. No peaceful Buddha sat, legs crossed, upon a comfy pillow on the bed. But there was, but, but, a book. Not Confucian Analects and not the Tao Te Ching and no Qur’an (spelled in those days with a K, Koran) but something left by Gideons. (What tribe, but, or nation they?) Forbidden menu was a centerfold of duties from their Deuteronomy. Now they’re on to me, thought A, but not, thought B, the dude that oughta be: Decline, it said, the meat
of every beast that cheweth cud and is of cloven hoof or those of cloven hoof yet cheweth not the cud nor them that yet divide the cloven hoof as camel hare and coney for they chew the cud but don’t divide the hoof or swine because they do, but, but, divide the hoof yet cheweth not the cud. No mention of the bird that clucks and pecks but does not often fly. Inside the Georgio great egg there was another room like this one in another egg and inside that another all with but a room like that and but inside of that another room like this and so on, but, but =
each containing Mr. A and Mr. B until they exit from the frame and walk along the wall and finally speak in Chicken à la King:
Mr. A: My real name is Shadow
Mr. B: My real name is Shire
They put a seal on that until they saw that someone scoffed. An anthropologist. Not to be accused of it by Mr. A whose name, but, but, is Shadow now. Not to be amused by Shire, formerly the very self of Mr. B. Their share in this but crumbs fallen from some high table (Trinity or King’s?) golden in the egg. Would you rather nibble fatwa or retain your noble pride? When they were very young, therefore, they listened on a radio at teatime to a program called The Shadow Knows. The knowledge let the language of the home fire burn. It wasn’t, but, but, entirely anthropologist, however and, that moment when they stood beside Enigma of Arrival, departing soon enough on its begin again.
Before the butbut and therefore, the knot of all distinctions and degrees, a cause célèbre and all about decrees (as if inside of He decreed it but it anyway was not not so). Shire and Shadow had a shipping spirit there to make enigma of arrival anagram itself imagine, as it does, almost, when just a little i is added on. But drumstick doesn’t serve as Georgio’s requirement for spécialité de la maison, although the latter coughs up an anyway as wishbone in the golden egg. Other bones are, chuck it, in the basket with the claim check of gadsblood and cloven hooves goddamnit and the cuds of animals escaped from Deuteronomy, Gideons in swift, but, although, pursuit.
4. Chicken Cacciatore
It was winter out. The snow fell. Influenza stalked the native population. Shire and Shadow stayed indoors, stuffing coins in shilling heaters, practicing a cultivated conversation. You’re a square said Mr. Shadow. You’re all round said Mr. Shire. You’re a squandered opportunity. You’re a ransomed renegade. You’re my Cromwell. You’re my Cavalier. Neither of us dear, is haut cuisine, however much we may aspire to caviar. Try their roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, pal. Their soggy peas. Fish and chips with vinegar, all wrapped in Tabloid. Local girls were chicks before they gentrified as sixties and generic birds. Cacciatore, but, but, means hunter to the enigmatic women and the egocentric chefs.
5. Chicken Tandoori
Oh well, Tandoori. Treat with cayenne and turmeric and chili powder till it’s red as mad dog the Englishman out in the noonday sun. Kundan Gujral and mate Jagiji ran a kitchen in a Peshawar deli called De Chirico’s. Although this was well before partition, the times included clock and egg and someone running with a, but, but, a hoop and stick. It took the world by storm. By strum und drang. In such weather one does not set sail. They say that certain London ethnics serve up in their restaurants horsemeat and alley cats, but who would know the difference as the wing and drumstick are so goodly red (though very badly read). Shire and Shadow once again depart their room and step out of the canvas in the egg into the street. A strike is on promoting Hiraeth on the outside. Inside now is anybody’s guess. In the Welsh? In the sherbet, chicken heads mixed in the cheese. Jeez, mahn, I’ll take fuck-all of that. Oh, why not share a bit with friends? But no trumpets for tandoori, but, but, except as crumpets for the Enigmatics (cult that agents of the anyway are infiltrating even now). And no longing for Colonial before the Post, who consecrates the host. What you want is in the mail or the mall. Arrival and departure and return are all peck and flap without a tangible: Meet them in the tangos dancing on a tangent plane contingent as a tantamount in Tottenham Court Road.
John Matthias has published some thirty-five books of poetry, translation, literary criticism, memoirs, and scholarship. His most important books of poetry are his recent three volumes of Collected Poems, together with Trigons, the long poem in seven sections, which continues in print as an individual volume. His work has appeared in many US and UK journals such as The New Yorker, Poetry, Parnassus, Harvard Review, Salmagundi, Pleiades, The Common, Boulevard, PN Review, TLS, Boundary 2, Stand, The Paris Review, The Partisan Review, and many others. For many years he was poetry editor of Notre Dame Review, and continues as Editor at Large. Other editorial work has included his two books on David Jones, Introducing David Jones and David Jones Man and Poet, along with his 1971 anthology introducing many postmodern British poets to US readers, 23 Modern British Poets.