Stone Soup: A Brief Heritage

Photograph by the author.

It’s a supermarket in Brooklyn.

He’s hunting for vegetable stock.

There’s a hurricane coming.

And people from the neighborhood.

They’re ransacking the non-perishable goods.

There’s an 81% feeling of general hysteria.

And who of all people should he run into in front of the melons.

Who of all people but himself.


D : You’re late.

D (takes out wallet) : Look I don’t want any trouble.

D : Look he says. Do I look like a poor man to you.

D (looks at his clothes) : “I don’t have”—

D : “One red cent”—

D : “But all I need”—

D : “Is a clean shirt.”

D : You know they’re a superstitious people, the Russians. 

D : They believe a man must put on clean linen before he dies yes.

D : Mayakovsky believed it.

D : He bought his new button-down and loaded his gun.

D : “He had played Russian roulette with himself twice before and won.”

D : A cruel word, roulette. Which means, little wheel.

D : You read this on a bus heading north to see a woman.

D : I was wearing my new white shirt.

D : And your collar was starched.

D : It was summer.

D : It was eighty-one years after Vladimir lost his first roulette.

D : And I watched the woman dive into a lake.

D : And her bathing suit was white.

D (looks at his clothes) : Still working on washing that one off, aren’t you.

D : It was like, “I can’t believe it she doesn’t scrub off in the shower.”

D : And a few years later a flood wipes the town off the map.

D : But it doesn’t wash off the woman.

D (ticked) : I do look like a poor man to you.

D : You look like a man who’s after a clean shirt.

D : And then the rest is roulette.

D : And then the rest is confetti.

D : But what if we fix ourselves stone soup for supper instead.

D : (Puts away wallet.)

D : We’ll need the white root of a turnip, and rhubarb bitters, and nectarines.

D : (Silence.)

D: And barley and chicory, and a handful of nutmeg, and bergamot.

D: (Looks down at shoes.)

D : And gunpowder tea, and rutabagas, and a few of those lines in your head.

D : How about this: “you can’t say where you end and where the dust begins.”

D : All the little ingredients that make you—you know—me.

D : And the idea is we stir them all in a pot.

D : And we throw in a stone.

D : And we find it all here, in a supermarket, before the place is picked clean.

(He takes him by the wrist. They walk.)



They’re standing in front of a wall of cans.

Around them, people from the neighborhood.

Fighting for soup and bread. 


D : You said you once heard a man give a lecture.

D : Schlesinger.

D : He had a beautiful skull, you said.

D : Like a witch doctor.

D : He said Shelley used to walk for hours on the beach, muttering to himself.

D : Talking nonsense, yes.

D : And stringing together these short, rhythmic phrases.  

D : “Like he was stitching together a pocket,” Schlesinger said.

D : And later when Shelley walked home, he’d fill the pockets with language.

D : That’s how he wrote poems.

D : You spoke some words of your own when you walked home that night.

D : Writing a poem, it’s like coloring in a hole with language. 

D (places carton in basket) : You can cross off the broth.

D (stops) : I thought that was Wordsworth, the walking.

D : You know he was a spy.

D : Conrad told me that, yeah, over a pinch of chocolate.

D : Shoveling up intelligence for the secret service.

D : And the chocolate tasted like this: to hell with you bloodsuckers.

D (takes him by the wrist) : What matters here is your mother told me a story.

D : Mother, mother, mother—she told a lot of men stories.

D : She said her son used to visit the trash cans behind the house.

D : Many men, many men. Many men used to visit behind the house.

D : She said, “My son was born with a beat in his head.”

D : She claims I used to bang on her trash cans with sticks.

D : “Until a crowd of brown toads was applauding at his feet.”

D : “He was ashamed,” she tells people. “To ask for the things that he loved.”

D : Which, at that age, was a nice pair of sticks.

D :  The hickory ones.

D :  “So he broke a few ribs off my drying rack,” she told me.

D : And I hid them under my bed.

D : And you waited for your solo. 

D : And I waited for the family to go out for their evening walk.

D (places box in basket) : You can cross off the seasoning.

D : It was a childhood whose background music was my mother’s dismay.

D : When she realized she was no longer wearing a sun dress.

D : And dancing through a field of timothy grass.

D : You told me you remember a beach with her in July.  

D : And girls dressed in summer clothes walking by the water.

D : And mother’s cassette in the tape deck.

D : And Mick Jagger singing, I see the girls walk by / dressed in their summer clothes.

D : It’s funny the way some men build empires.

D : Some men just diddle and diddle themselves until they become king.

D (stares at him): Have you forgotten what’s happening here.

D : And everyone riots in the streets when he dies.

D (places bag in basket) : Well you can cross off potatoes.

D : Yes the family would go out for walks after supper.

D : Those kind of blue-hour walks over a bridge after late rain.

D : And a golden retriever is chasing a squirrel up ahead.

D : And the neighbors they stop when they see you and say hell of a nice night isn’t it.

D : While the dog licks the salt from their palms.


(Two people from the neighborhood wrestling over a milk bone on the floor. One of them shouts something inaudible, something like, “when I drag your corpse through the mud,” but her voice gets lost in the clangor.)


D : But your neighbor’s the one with the dog and not you.

D : What matters is I liked to stay behind when the family went out for a walk.

D : A lot of men. A lot of men where you’re from stayed behind. 

D (covers his eyes, doing Milton) : “Well they also serve who only stand and wait.”

D : You ever wonder if God poked out his eyes because he wrote that. 

D : Instead of the other way around—yeah, all the time.

D : So you stood and you waited.

D : And when the door clicked shut I’d arrange the couch cushions in front of me.

D : And you’d what.

D : I’d beat the garbage out of them along to some songs.

D (places bottle in basket) : You can cross off the oil.

D : I liked the sound when I struck them, the cushions. It was like war drums. 

D : Trust me I’ve noticed you never stop god damn whapping on everything.

D : Tables and mattresses, yeah—and bottles.

D : Your chest seems to make a kind of nice dead thud of a hollow sound. 

D : The family would come home and catch me flailing my arms.

D : Drumming the shit out of their furniture.

D : And shouting indecipherably at the ceiling along to a record.

D : Coloring in a hole with language.

D : You know, as a kid you like that about punk.

D : You like that you can’t understand what they’re saying. 

D : So you have to make up your own words and sing them along with the song.

D : A guy singing the word Soho like someone yanked out his liver.

D : Or Joe Strummer doing his impersonation of Montgomery Cliff.

D : And Cliff is pissmouth drunk.

D : And Joe coughs up this noise—

D : And he actually writes out the words in the liner notes—

D (together) : arrrghhhgorra—buh—bhuh—do—arrrrgggghhhhnnnn.

D : It was all these punks who looked like they weren’t fit to own dogs or children.

D : Like something straight out of Popa.

D : “Listen you freak”—

D : “Give me back my rags”—

D : You wore a lot of rags when you were first starting out.

D (places box in basket) : You can cross off the matches.



They’re standing in front of a sign.

american bros. bread.

A few pieces of the first B on the sign have chipped off.

american eros. bread, it says.

And a child is feeding a deli cat down by their feet.


D : Let’s see the tattoo again.

D: (Lifts up shirt.)

D : That must’ve hurt, on the ribs there.

D : I was young.

D : Do you have an answer.

D : An answer.

D : Like, why is it a law that all young people have to read Cummings?

D :  “Since feeling is first,” maybe. Or maybe “my blood approves.” 

D : No an answer. 

D : Well I think when you’re young—

D : You’re not young.

D : It’s like, “I can’t believe it the words don’t scrub off in the shower.”

D : Okay but tell me if you remember this one. (Turns his back on him).

D : Can I lower my shirt now.

D : (Turns around again). “How are you going to feel”—

D : “When you aren’t a poet anymore”—

D : “And you don’t want those words on your body.”

D : My sister, on the steps of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

D : With her hands underneath her belly.

D : It was before she had the first child.

D : She told me she was a poet once herself.

D : I liked you in that scene.

D : The family is sitting there in the welter.

D : Your very pregnant sister.

D : Who gave up writing to start a family.

D : And an alley of live oaks waving their arms down the road.

D : And she’s holding out spoonfuls of shit.

D : Like are you going to swallow this baby brother.

D (doing Tina Turner) : “Well I pumped a lotta ‘pane down in New Orleans.”

D : The great American poem is the family at each other’s throats yes.

D : A Death in the Family—you know the prologue, the summer in Knoxville?

D : And those who receive me—

D : Who treat me as one familiar and well-beloved in that home—

D : But they will not—

D : Not now, not ever

D : But they will not tell me who I am.

D : That whole book is Americans roiling behind the four walls of their bodies.

D : Well the great American poem is a family just trying to break bread.

D : But I want you to talk about the tattoo.

D : I lay down on a bench in Kansas City and a man gave it to me.

D (pause) : Are we still talking about the tattoo…

D : What I loved was you couldn’t read the words.

D : The poem isn’t speakable no.

D : You have to witness the poem.

D : Like you witness a contract.

D : l(a

D : le

D : af

D : fa

D : ll

D : s)

D : one

D : l

D : iness


(Someone from the neighborhood breaks a rake over his knee. He screams something like, “you’ll have this flour when I’m cold and dead in the ground,” but his voice is lost in the crowd.)


D : But it doesn’t feel American to me, that poem.

D : It feels how America feels to me. 

D : You mean it’s a spectacle.

D : You watch the leaf falling and the letters all shoving each other out of the way.

D : All that i-ness, i-ness, i-ness at the end.

D : A Death in the Family—you know when the kid is sitting on a rock with his dad.

D : “He felt that although his father loved their home and loved all of them”—

D : “He was more lonely than the contentment of this family love could help”—

D : “He felt that it even increased his loneliness”—

D : “Or made it hard for him not to be lonely”—

D : The whole pageantry of the American family right there.

D : Or that first real day of summer each year in Brooklyn.

D : When someone slinks to the corner and wrenches open the fire hydrant.

D : And all the kids, neighbors and brothers and sisters.

D : They take turns eating this blast of water in the face.

D : And they dance in the spray.

D : People drive their cars through the water.

D : And the youngest kid in the neighborhood is drinking the runoff out of the gutter.

D : You said a guy sat you down once, an editor.

D : He was eating a salad.

D : He said, So who’s in your family.

D : His name was Spears.

D : I think he’s dead now?

D : He still works on Madison Avenue yes.

D (places bottle in basket) : Well you can cross off vinegar.

D : He wanted to know who sits on my throne, you know.

D : Who are your influences.

D : Like there’s an answer beyond a quilt hanging on my wall.

D : And it takes a life.

D : An entire lifetime to tell every thread’s story yes.

D : He told you your poems were horse shit.

D (places packet in basket) : Well you can cross off thread.

D (pause) : You know Ginsberg saw Garcia Lorca over there by the melons.

D : “Let California fall into the ocean.”

D : That’s not Allen.

D : That’s a lyric.

D (doing Joe Strummer) : arrrghhhgorra—buh—bhuh—do—arrrrgggghhhhnnnn.

D : Alright one American tradition that I’m glad is dead is the poetic mecca.

D : What’s that—a bar with a jukebox and pictures of yourself on the walls?

D : There’s all these stories about young poets in browline glasses.

D : Dragging themselves out to the homes of the old white masters.

D : Wearing slacks.

D : Out to some clam chowder province.

D : And their lips are quivering and they hold out a rumpled sheave of paper.

D : And they say mister wilbur will you judge my poems mister wilbur.

D (places bag in basket) : You can cross off lemons now.

D : But you tell people the one about Allen and the Good Doctor.

D : Well they were from the same town.

D : The same town is what counts.

D : Like I’m not going to walk down to Macon and ask Little Richard how to rip it up.

D : But you’d just as soon march back to your hometown.

D : Maybe I need to know the best places to stash swill if I’m going to be out all night.

D : So you knock on the door of the drunk guy named Tater.

D (places package in basket) : You can cross off the meat.

D : So Ginsberg puts on his browline glasses and walks the 21 blocks across Paterson.

D : And he knocks on the door of the old, wormy Doctor.

D : He shakes his liver-spot hand.

D : The guy who wrote the poem about Americans not giving a shit about poor people.

D : And he even called it pastoral.

D : And the same day an egret lands on the Passaic river.

D : And the egret dies instantly.

D : That’s how toxic it was.

D : But you loved a man who made the same walk in his day.

D : He gets a little more weathered every time I see him yes.

D : Who was his white guy.

D : He follows Lowell home one day on campus—

D : You’re telling it wrong.

D : “You can be true, you can be false, you’ll be given the same reward.”

D : (Looks at his clothes.)

D : It’s a lyric. About working.

D : So he follows Lowell home and bangs on his door one night—

D : Lowell answers and he looks like seventeen thousand people died inside his face. 

D : This guy in the story, he says he’s so nervous that all he can stammer is:

D (together) : Mister Lowell . . . . how are you!

D : And Lowell says “crazy” and slams the door in his face.

D : And then he opens it back up and hands him a basket of laundry.

D : C’mon he says.

D : We’re going to wash my rags.


(They leave. They don’t pay for anything.)