Raz el Hanout

By Rhoda Janzen Rhoda Janzen
A recipe for lamb tagine   
demands a mysterious   
ingredient: raz el hanout.   
Animal, vegetable, compound   

of kings like myrrh? I decide   
not to look it up, to wait and   
see. At first it is everything   
we seek but can’t express.   

Then it reverses: everything   
thrust upon us—think fast!—   
by the universe, like the leg   
my friend Tom caught when   

a cyclist got clipped by a car,   
the driver stinking drunk   
at 9:00 AM. Severed above   
the knee, the leg flung itself   

into the air, a javelin. Tom,   
always quick, reached up and   
caught it. But the story has   
a twist. After the cyclist died   

in an ambulance, the widow   
inexplicably came on to Tom.   
Not that Tom is unattractive.   
Indeed he is the sort of man   

I’d throw myself at if I were   
a leg. It’s hard to imagine   
the sex that Tom and this   
woman would have had

there in the hotel room   
with the blackout curtains   
pulled. I’ve never had sex   
with Tom myself, but if I had   

been that leg or that woman   
I might have whispered,   
“What fine reflexes you   
have, Sir!” “Sir, say something   

tender!” “Cradle me against   
the guttural gasp from your   
solar plexus.” “Oh, Sir, I   
sense the tip of bone   

on skin, a surge of déjà vu.”   
“I am coming, I am about   
to come, your shuddering   
lover, your raz el hanout.”

Source: Poetry (February 2009).


This poem originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2009
 Rhoda  Janzen


Rhoda Janzen is the author of the poetry collection Babel's Stair (Word Press, 2006) and the memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (Henry Holt and Company, 2009). She teaches at Hope College.

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Activities, Sports & Outdoor Activities

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.