A Literary Feast

Posts by Caroline Cooper

Parts of (Chinese) Speech

Posted on May 14th, 2014

One thing’s for sure: learning Mandarin is like cracking your head over a hot jagged stone. Again and again. Hard. It just kills you. Four tones, thousands of characters, stroke after stroke, all ordered correctly, the works. After a full day of studying you take yourself out for a beer or a plate of chicken, thinking you’ve finally come to understand something of this language and how it works, but when the waiter in his thickly wonderful Guizhouian drawl simply asks if you’d like anything else you just stare at him blankly—what the hell did this guy just say? The words shift not only region to region but family to family. People’s everyday use of Mandarin sneaks up on you, borne along the waves of social exchange by a stranger’s unfamiliar reference,…

Why Can’t I be a Bureaucrat?

Posted on March 17th, 2014

Why can’t I be a bureaucrat So tender, meek and mild? And follow you all through your days And bear your paper child?   Why can’t I sit down at that desk And wile away my time? Attending meetings, conference call And earn productive dime.   I’d get it all so nice and neat I’d get it down on time. And when the day is nearly through I’d spend my goodly dime.   On barrel-busting drink and food On stuffing my old craw, And look away each time I think My God, My God, My God.   Why can’t I be a bureaucrat? Deny myself the pleasure, Of ever doing as I please My unproductive leisure.   I’d embarrass you, my sloven mess I’d…

A Bandage Made of Caviar

Posted on January 18th, 2014

A friend made me dinner last night. This was great; I have been in need of a good look in the eye and a fine piece of meat, both of which my friend provided together with some red. She cooked the meal a long time, in her British way, and with her new job on the horizon and the fact I am still bleeding from a recent medical procedure we were both feeling introspective and in need of iron. At times like this I am extremely grateful for friends with working full-gas stoves and those old cast iron pans that take to butter and meat, both, in the classic style and without fuss.   I came carrying a half-gnawed loaf I had worked on…

Roll of Mustard, Hear My Cry

Posted on July 19th, 2013

I am in a major first romance. I am 36 years old: a stock-taking point in life. A point at which you begin to understand the broad contours of the things you will and will not have: the career as it has taken shape, the dreams as they have fallen away, the places you have visited but will probably never see again. I have time, I know this. But I don’t have all of the time. I don’t have the forever time of childhood, or the joking—when will she grow up?—time of teenage years. I don’t even have the experimental stretch that is so much the residue and the requirement of being in your twenties, or even the early thirties.   No—36 is something…