Literary Yard

Search for meaning

‘Kitchen Pirate’ and other poems

By: Virginia Aronson

Kitchen Pirate

(Anthony Bourdain, 1956-2018)

If I’m unhappy,
it’s a failure
of imagination.

The epitome of cool
men wanted to be him
women wanted to bed him
booze and smoking and age
looked good on him
everyone knew
his craggy face
his TV shows
his deep-felt love
of other cultures
their special ways
their special foods.

I travel the world,
eat a lot of shit,
and basically
do whatever the fuck
I want:

a winning formula.

A Jersey boy
he could be a dick
when opportunity arose
equally hard on himself
admittedly angry about
all the wasted years
he later described in
his own special brand
of gonzo journalism
a storyteller essayist
a tough romantic
in love with food
in love with life.

He dropped out of Vassar
escaped to Provincetown
a naive pot washer
for the kitchen pirates
the ne’er-do-wells
tattoos and drugs
stealing bar booze
sleeping with customers,
staff, he made his way
up the kitchen ladder
before joining the CIA:
the award-winning
Culinary Institute
of America.

I wanted it all:
the cuts and burns
on hands and wrists,
the goulish kitchen humor,
the free food,
the pilfered booze,
the camaraderie
that flourished
within rigid order
and nerve-shattering

Apartment in New York
hundred-hour weeks
in tourist traps with views
for diners who chose
to eat garbage
at the top
of the world.

He rose early
wrote a bestseller
and instant fame
hit him hard
when he was 44
tapering on methadone
for a heroin addiction.

Full-fledged pirate
rock star chef
introduced the country
to the foodie revolution
traveling far and wide
to sample wild food:

warthog rectum
in Namibia
rotten shark
in Iceland
raw seal eyeball
with the Intuit
raw blood soup
in Thailand
cheap noodles
with President Obama
on a stool in Hanoi

notoriety a game
he could play
exceedingly well.

A marriage, a child
he was the happiest
he’d ever been
until a fatal affair
and the world’s
most fortunate chef
lost his way:
I hate my job,
I hate my fans,
I hate my life.

He hung himself
on a bathroom door
in a small hotel
in a French village
where nobody knew him
nobody could save him

a troubled spirit
under all the charm
he loved the world
until it broke
his tender heart.

Nightclubs and Manure Piles

(Louis Bromfield, 1896-1956)

Tall, slim, handsome, famous
the bestselling author
an American in Paris
spent long nights in cafés
after the War, after the gritty
glamour of ambulance driving
picking up dead, wounded
a hero in love with France
the cheese, the poplar trees
blooming in a ruined land
rubbled over fertile ground
he imagined what could be.

He took his typewriter
on trains, out in fields
writing romantic stories
of strong ambitious women
self-made, progressive views
ahead of his time he was
considered the most promising
of the young Americans
awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Moving north of Paris
to a village rectory
painting murals on walls
mixing guests like cocktails
at weekly Champagne buffets:
famous athletes, movie stars
aristocrats and artists
in his two-acre flower garden
never dreaming he’d abandon
such beauty, glitter and fame
for 600 acres of eroded soil
in his Ohio homeland.

In France he observed
the deep love of terroir
the sacredness of land
enlightened he evolved
a visionary on the fragility
of our environmental future
the importance of organic
sustainability he called
The New Agriculture:
green manures
no-till farming
no chemicals
no pesticides
with soil biodiversity
to avoid another Dust Bowl
from destructive farm techniques.

A brilliant conservationist
a public and political voice
he dared to create
the cooperative
Malabar Farm:
20,000 annual visitors
arrived by the busload
a mecca for young farmers
for agricultural pioneers
looking to change the world.

He lectured on DDT
thirty years before the ban
forecasting a future label
for chemical-free food
an early vocal advocate
for better farming, better food

now mostly forgotten
his amazing hybrid life
of literature and lectures
parties and plantings
a wild mix he called
nightclubs and manure piles.


  1. Brilliant and gritty, your poetry resonated with me. Thank you for doing the research to give us a glimpse at the men behind the masks. Well done and very interesting.

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