Green, warty, and humble
this small Japanese cousin
of the buttercup squash
has a cult following among
Known for its mango flesh,
its smooth texture, and its chesnutty flavor,
the kabocha is revered as an aphrodisiac
by squashophilic peoples of the globe.
For most, any amorous feelings that arise
from eating the kabocha
resolve themselves on mortal men and women
but not the pumpkin itself, as in my case.
If you have a large enough knife
to cleave this rock-hard squash-bauble,
the fragrance issuing from its secret chamber
will make you believe in fairy godmothers.
The scent is recognizable
to anyone who has dug their bare hands
into the soil beneath the late-winter leaf mould
– fermented, pungent, cool
ripe with humus, writhing with springtails.
I often bake the kabocha whole
to avoid the problem of breaking its hull,
but I have been plunged, on occasion
into aromatic confusion
as the kitchen fills with the scent
of a sweating horse.
For any girl who has lived through
a pre-teen obsession with the Equus caballus
the plastic models and show ribbons,
the complete Misty of Chincoteague collection
sweating horse is the smell of Freedom
with a capital F.
Speaking of, the foul-tempered steed
of my childhood was a bony, geriatric half-breed
called Sham whose passion for running me
under low branches resulted
in at least two hairline fractures,
and a few swollen ticks in the thigh,
ten or so stitches and
deep mutual distrust.
Sham spent the last of his days
grazing on a hill behind my house
on Montford – a place known
as Horse Hill by the children of Homestead,
feral as we were
abandoned in the weedy summers
to roam the bramble choked deer trails
that traversed the mountain.
We hunted for blue-green liquor bottles
in the Eucalyptus grove above
the old farmhouse where the nudist tenants
communal in numbers,
smoking their hookah pipes
and their hand rolled joints,
let us run wild like vermin.
Only years later did I learn Jack Kerouac
had written parts of Dharma Bums within
those very same walls –
hung with saris and sarongs
reeking with patchouli and ginger beer.
With a power unmatched by color
the baking Kabocha reclaims the dreamer,
leading her by the ankle bangles, dancing
in a free-association revelry, lucid tripping
through the perfumed labyrinths of memory.
In the year of our Sham came Polyestor
out in Odoroma – better than 3-D by far;
I saved my Scratch ‘N Sniff cards for years
on behalf of all persecuted heroines
Divine, and otherwise.
In the chemical signatures of Odorama –
burning flesh, dog shit, and new car,
my memory attached itself
to the purple vinyl couches
the red velvet cushions of the Castro Theater,
the noxious clouds of exhaust
coughed out by my father’s Camaro,
Etzel shouting down the dumbwaiter
at Sam Wo’s, and the grease of Chow Fun,
to the face of Dexter the foot-fetishist
and his kindred spirit,
the faceless trail side killer.
One day a farmer will grow a
Kabocha big enough to hide away in –
in a world without clocks
and ill-fitting slippers of glass
where the walls are edible
and hung with seed curtains.
I will ride upon the top, madly whipping
the reins, the wind groping at my hair
with its icy claws, while
all the silent watchers in the forest watch
from the haunted hollows of black night
as the old horse draws me swiftly
away to a truer freedom
than the Dharma bums
could even grant a Cinderella
for I, too, would rather sit on a pumpkin,
and have it all to myself
than be crowded on a velvet cushion.*
*Henry David Thoreau