Jos Charles is a trans poet, translator, editor, and author of feeld, a National Book Award long-listed finalist and winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series, selected by Fady Joudah (Milkweed Editions) and Safe Space (Ahsahta Press). Charles has poetry published with POETRY, Poem-a-Day, PEN, Washington Square Review, Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. In 2016 she received the Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship through the Poetry Foundation. Jos Charles has an MFA from the University of Arizona. She is a PhD student at UC Irvine and currently resides in Long Beach, CA.
Here, she talks about feeling very serious, cooking from 14th century cookbooks, and the simplest of final meals.
On her all-time favorite meal:
I wore mostly hand-me-downs growing up—big sweaters and drawstring pants with boots, clothes that fit across years and bodies—so any opportunity to wear ‘nice clothes’ instantly established, to my young self, a feeling of seriousness and care. When a café opened near us, I loved going out, however rare yet pronounced, with my family, or just my Dad and oldest brother, on a Saturday afternoon or late morning. I would put on pleated pants and a late-80’s teal, black, and purple silk shirt, the ‘nice clothes’, and get a very large vanilla latte (as big as my head, I remember thinking once) and sit up at the bar munching on a pastry, strawberry scone, poppy seed Danish. I’d read, typically, the comic section of the newspaper. I should not have been drinking espresso at age 7, yes, but, I felt so serious. It was one of the few times at that age, and, even now, I felt really, very serious.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
Where I measure coffee grounds in the morning, a window looks out onto the apartment walkway—overcast, typically. I make my coffee, no food, and it is true, it is not well lit; but across the room there’s a sliding glass door behind various house plants, at varying stages of life, which lets some light in. It’s a light that lights the whole room. I stand, sometimes, and watch the tree outside. The leaves, tiny medallions, yellowing. The light that lights the house lights there too. Across town there is a mechanical crane above the houses, the port of Los Angeles, which angles, in full-circumference, multicolor crates, slowly across the skyline. Two upright, worldy things. My meals are, truth be told, inconsistent—but I retain, routinely, my small mornings.
On snacking while writing:
Writing, for me, requires much space. I also very much enjoy meals: being at the table with someone I love, and if not someone I love, someone I like, and if not someone I like, simply being at a table, and if not being at a table, then, yes, alone and streaming something stupid in bed, a big bowl of whatever beside me. It’s a reprieve. But I do not multitask well—especially with writing. And writing is a task. And a meal is a task. Most always I write in bed, at my desk, or, when I’m feeling daring, a coffeeshop. I can handle a black coffee and sparkling water with ice. It’s as multi-tasky as I get.
On late-night snacking:
No late-night snacking either. Both morning and late-night my stomach, brain, heart, all feel very done with the world. I don’t like events during achy times (though, of course, this at times unavoidable). The only thing I consume at night is flat water. I drink a lot of water.
On her food quirks:
I usually cook my own meals and am, typically, on some strand or way of cooking. Recently—and the closest thing to a ‘quirk’ I could think—I was making things derived from 14th-15th C. English and French ‘cookbooks’ (more often than not kept for posterity, history, etc, rather than replication). There was a lot of pine nuts, clove, barley, vinegar, pottages, beer. After all those carbs and aged things I gave way to more fresh foods, greens, juices. For the time being I am very LA.
On her final meal request:
Something ordinary and close at hand. A cup of coffee, bread, water. Maybe a handful of almonds. A blood orange would be a beautiful final meal. There was a pomegranate tree in a neighbor’s backyard I remember eating at around age 5—maybe I’d like that again. It’s hard to say: simple, alone, dusk, at my desk, perhaps, or on a shore. I don’t know what shore, but, and this is certain, it would face the pacific. I would have left behind my bag, phone, watch. I would be clean.