Chicken a la King

by Sheindel Weinbach


Quiet, modest, unassuming,

Eyes perennially downcast,

Portrait of the porter, Tuvya,

Shoulders bowed, misfortune-blast.

No complainer, gentle Tuvya,

Always happy with his lot.

Nor does Gittel, his "kenegdo,"

Strive for what she hasn't got.

Pumpernickel bread with onion

Is their fare, day in, day out.

And if luck decrees that "extra,"

Occasionally, they'll go without.

Simple people, simple strivings,

Simple tastes and simple dreams.

Mute and meek and mild and tranquil,

So they'll end their lives—it seems.

But gentle Tuvya has a yearning,

A burning, unexpressed desire,

A one-time fling, a sole departure,

A flirt with fate, ere he expire.

"We have lived our lives together,

Sixty years is quite a spell.

And now that we are eighty, Gittel,

There is something I must tell.

"Our lot in life has yielded pleasures

Few and very far apart,

And though I've been, thank God, contented,

One lone temptation rends my heart.

"Temptations of the yetzer hora?

Fearful fancy of a sinner?

A taste of heaven, think I rather,

For what I crave is a chicken dinner.

"Through eighty years of earthly toiling,

I wish—just once—and not again,

To satisfy this crazy craving,

To taste a tender, juicy hen.

"See here, Gittel, is the money,

Pennies saved up, one by one.

Buy the biggest, best and fattest,

Fittest fowl, surpassed by none!"

Shoulders squared and head uplifted,

Glint of laughter in her eyes.

"Is this Gittel?" merchants whisper.

Shrugging shoulders in surprise.

Squeezing, pinching, poking, patting,

Gittel finally makes her choice.

"Here's the chicken that I'm after,"

She exclaims in newfound voice.

Mission done to satisfaction,

Gittel shyly asks, "What next?"

Seek in vain the verse or chapter,

This occasion has no text.


To the shochet, to the slaughter,

Expert hands must do this motion,

And after that—another problem,

Of kashering, Gittel has no notion.

Eviscerated and defeathered,

Juicy morsel of a bird,

Duly kashered, next the cooking,

Foreign process, quite absurd.

Perplexed, poor Gittel, and bewildered,

But Tuvya knows just what to do.

"The yeshivah cook will roast our dinner

For a pennyworth or two."

Proudly bearing steaming platter,

Tuvya beamingly announces,

"Set the table fit for princes,

With the trimmings and the flounces."

Cloth and napkins, crystal stemware,

Borrowed most—a little bought.

As they are about to banquet,

Tuvya suddenly has a thought.

"Are we pigs or are we gluttons

All alone with none to share?

Just you and I to dine in splendor,

Without a guest to join our fare?

"Let me, Gittel, call a poor man,

Even better, make it two,

Then we'll bensch mezuman. Surely

That's the proper thing to do!"

The guests come gladly to the dinner,

A rich aroma fills the air,

They eat with gusto, so expressive,

And stuff themselves as much they dare.

Tuvya ponders, Tuvya puzzles,

He still is not quite satisfied,

And after he recites HaMotzi,

He motions Gittel to his side.

"The eighty years that I have waited

Have seemed quite long, I must admit,

But now that I have realized my dream,

To indulge—and eat—does not seem fit.

"I hope you understand, dear Gittel,

I hope you don't think this a waste.

Let's let our guests enjoy their fill, once.

I'll wait for heaven for my taste."

Quiet, modest, unassuming,

Tuvya, Gittel, sit and dine,

Pumpernickel bread and water,

With the taste of fowl and wine.

In the eyes of the beholder,

Is beauty's last and final test,

And so does taste yield ambrosiac flavor,

In meanest crust by heaven blessed.



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