(GJ) Canto VI (p. 2, ll. 12-18).

Shadows streak her falsely smiling face, smitten by the hot creamy light, grey wheyhued shadows under the jawbones, streaks of eggyolk yellow….

A delicate risotto can take hours of logistical plotting, measuring, constant and conscientious stirring, and admiring. After such a painstaking effort, it’s risky to taste it. What if you fail to adore it? Worse, what if the rapture is too much to survive? What if you are condemned to eat only risotto for ever-more?

Even risotto simmered at carefully varied temperatures will never materialize as perfect as the photograph that accompanies the recipe. That rice dish is an illusion. The creamy sauce is artistically painted and drizzled with hand-cream. The truffles are snippets of rubber gasket. That risotto mirage tantalizes but could never satisfy.

In April of 1911, Joyce traveled by train to Padua to secure a teacher’s license allowing him to earn beyond the opportunities given him by Berlitz. The train clacked past the rice fields of Vercelli. Signorina Popper accompanying him covered in a hat that slouched seductively over her brow. She wore a simmer of a creamy pale yellow dress and a “false smile.” Joyce’s soul stirs. She is the eucharistic risotto that will never reach the passion of a boil.

Her false smile betrays her absence. She left Trieste to study in Florence and Venice two years before he boarded that train. She is gone and her tutor is left with time and dopamine in exchange for his coach fare. Tortured by his lost forbidden love, his hunger is as hopeless as Dante’s desire for Beatrice. Forbidden as Nobokov’s Humbert in a haze, he fears to write syllables that unsay “the word that all men know.”

don ward July 2, 2020

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