2011 Poetry Issue | Poetry Contest | Indy Week
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2011 Poetry Issue 

Four poems brought to us by the number three

Page 2 of 6

First place

"The Waiter Offered To..."
by Ricky Garni

  • And that's where I stop. Because I am not certain what the waiter offered to do. The waiter had a pepper grinder, and he wanted to know if we wanted pepper on our tricolores. Yes, we did. But it is difficult to say what
  • the waiter offered. He didn't offer to pour pepper on our tricolores. Nor did he offer to spray pepper on our tricolores. Did he offer to sprinkle? No. Nor did he offer to administer pepper or divulge pepper upon our tricolores.

  • You can't toss pepper, at least not effectively, nor pitch it, in the classic sense, nor send it on its merry way, to the tricolores. Shower our tricolores with pepper, I considered saying to the waiter with the pepper grinder.
  • Pepper that spews or discharges is not a good thing, and decanting, pelting, or displacing pepper is a bad thing, and I would not suggest it to Sal, our waiter with the pepper grinder. Sal is a good man with a fine mustache and

  • A grinder. He has a beautiful wife (Angelica) who left him. Why his Angelica left him I will never know. Sal and Angelica seemed so happy together. So right. As Sal emits pepper upon our tricolores, I offer my sincere sympathy
  • for his sorrow. I understand his loss, his loss of Angelica, and yet I don't. Thus we begin to speak, Sal and I, of the ineffable cascade of love and its quizzical nature and the myriad of paths that it can take. Angelica says

  • Nothing. Grind away, Sal does, as we speak of love, and before you know it, too much pepper has been issued upon our tricolores, but we do not mind. We are used to the rush, splash, surge and deluge of pepper, Angelica and I.
  • Finally, though, Angelica quietly, gently, says, That's enough, Sal. That's enough. Yes, Sal is raining pepper upon our tricolores, Angelica's and mine. It isn't perfect, but it's a job. We don't mind that it is a job. We don't mind

  • Sal. In varying degrees, we like Sal. Sal, you do have a pepper grinder in your hands, Angelica says. Careful, says Angelica. Angelica was once Sal's wife—Now she often eats tricolores with me. Angelica is the sort of gal who
  • never cared for a pepper grinder. And yet we both love tricolores with pepper, and Sal knows it. And it is safe to say that we all love pepper. Luckily, Sal is handy with the grinder: Sal renders us pepper, a la tricolores. It's not a flood,

  • But it has the quality of one. And we feel happy and gay. Good job with the pepper, Angelica says to Sal. Sal says nothing, but continues to hold the pepper grinder. Sal, Angelica says, easy now. How did this ever happen?
  • How this all happened is a funny story. It all begins with the word 'tricolores.' Pepper comes in much later. Of course Sal is in it from the beginning. Let Sal tell you of it. Everything else came after that. Let Sal tell you of that.

  • Sal loves a good story. Sal knows best. Sal's mustache is moist. It is a rare thing that ends beautifully.

Judge's Comments: Uncertain what the waiter is offering? Really? In the midst of what he himself describes as a deluge of pepper, the wary cynicism of Garni's speaker comes off more diabolical than skeptical. His patronizing cluelessness ("Why his Angelica left him I will never know") and fondness for poor Sal ("We like Sal") only emphasizes this for the reader. And yet, there is of course reason for the speaker to be wary; Sal's incessant pepper grinding may be the only thing keeping him from doing something rash—I'm picturing the scene from High Fidelity in which John Cusack's character daydreams of killing his nemesis (the pony-tailed, exotic cooking guru played by Tim Robbins) with an air conditioning unit. But the narrator's lack of self-awareness makes it clear that the two obvious answers to his question "What is the waiter offering?"—either pepper or revenge for stealing his wife—would be impossible for him to even consider. And to think, this isn't even a narrative poem. In fact, this poem reminds me more of Gertrude Stein's portraits and their language-based repetitions, or even of James Tate's or Russell Edson's brand of surrealism, than it does of more narrative works. Which is the genius of the poem really. The fact that it combines all of these elements so intelligently, so entertainingly, is kind of a miracle. —Chris Tonelli

click to enlarge Ricky Garni - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

This is not the first time Ricky Garni, a Carrboro resident, has published in the Indy. In the early 1990s, the Miami native wrote a wine column, so it's fitting that his poem has a gustatory flair. Garni says he was drawn here by the "silliness of slightly snooty food nomenclature." Indeed, no one reading his poem will be able to order anything "tricolores" without a slight smirk. (Garni says the term has various culinary uses, but here refers to a "three-colored rotini pasta dish, alfredo.")

These days, Garni is a graphic designer who works with a regional wine distributor. He's a fan of New York School poets like Ron Padgett and Kenneth Koch, but becomes especially animated in sharing his enthusiasm for younger writers who are publishing online, including Misti Rainwater-Lites, Leigh Stein and Rob MacDonald.

"I have always been interested in poetry where the sadness was in soft focus, somehow present in the piece but at the same time concealed by a distracting joy," Garni says. "The sadness here is one of betrayal—and the distraction is not that of joy so much as it is the ritual of food."


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