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A Little Dinner Music

Stephen Murabito

“I have been taught the grace of eggplant,/The salvation of olives, the epiphany of garlic./I have had lessons/In the redemption of plum tomatoes.” Stephen Murabito writes as a true disciple of the blood-deep meaningfulness of food. Real food, ancient with family and ethnic tradition, nurturing in its continuity and complexity, satisfying beyond physical satiation. Food as a sustainer of soul as well as of body. Through tales of factory workers, small kitchens, squabbling relatives, butcher shops, back-yard barbecues, old age and family crisis, Murabito unfolds the constancy of food as a sturdy underpinning to our lives, binding us together, nudging life forward, capably ministering to our dailiness, our celebrations, and our times of trouble. A boy puzzles over how an uncle constructed a heaping “sin of a [pastrami] sandwich,” then hearing mention of his dead wife’s name, walked out of the deli into mental illness. A grandfather impresses on his 7-year old grandson the unspeakable treasure of fine cheese, transmitting knowledge that is not only literal but mystical. “His steady hand gave me the communion/Of Asiago in that human kitchen.” Murabito’s verbal canvas is large and colorful. He is at ease in working class homes with flamingo yard ornaments, yet his mental conversation is that of the philosopher and seer. He is in turns exuberant, whimsical, earthy, sentimental, yearning, gritty – and above all, sacramental. He opens his poetry collection with an invocation, closes it with a benediction. He would have all of us share the grace of his table and savor the elemental truth of “earth, sun, tree, hand, mouth.” “Oh, stranger, come, taste, hear, and see,/And don’t be strange any more…./Yes, listen, for I have more/Than food to pass:/I have something to tell–/ …Come, and bless me./Sit, and tear/This hard-crusted bread./It is all that I have,/The heart of my house,/Going deep to the blood.”

Stephen Murabito is an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh’s Greensburg campus, where he teaches in the undergraduate writing and composition programs. He was a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient in poetry in 1992. His poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Mississippi Review, Poet Lore, Bellingham Review, and 5AM; his short stories have appeared in North American Review, Antietam Review, Brooklyn Review, Cake Train, and Pittsburgh Quarterly On-Line. His composition reader, Connections, Contexts, and Possibilities, was published in 2001 by Prentice Hall. In 2004 Murabito was awarded the University of Pittsburgh’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. He lives in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania with his wife, April, and their four children Angelina, Estella, Antonia, and Sebastian.

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Excerpt

Benediction: How to Winter Out

(After Patricia Dobler’s “Wintering Out”)

Do not hide
In the cellar
Regardless of your beer supply
Value the blackbird
Without it
The robin’s song falls flat
Burn the wood
And sing the blues
And let the port roast cook
On the old iron stove
All day long
Eat garlic
And breathe poetry
Into your lover’s face
And thereby open yourself
To the rare sun
Don’t look when it goes down
Remember
Let all voices wait
And all flesh be silence
And all flame be a language
Perfectly understood
Yet constantly in need
Of such translation