FALL 2009 FOOD Issue Poems
"Tongue and Taste"
(Grandma Makes Octopus Stew)
I wave away the stench, twitch as his grim
remains absorb the burgundy; she clucks
her aggravation, shifts her hip and plucks
him from his marinade. Sighing, I skim
the liquor as she wields her knife to trim
his tentacles, and then sautés. She trucks
a slimy spoon toward me, but her luck's
run out: my "New-World" ways are not a whim.
I step aside. There'll be no armistice;
she won't blink, and telling her men dispossessed
these creatures, Maced them from their pots, would rive
us more apart. Spoon poised, she waits; I kiss
her cheek, then smile, my lips most firmly pressed—
her stubbornness and backbone both survive.
—Marybeth Rua-Larsen, Somerset, MA
You, little boy, shouldering all those grapes!
It falls to the bronze (in this case, some cheap
metal painted shiny brown) to keep
your balance—yet another cluster drapes
your privates and verges on your next step
forward with the vintage. This stewardship
of yours anticipates the long lewd sip
almighty fleshpots share, who like a kept
boy for his plump aloofness, his cheek up
front and behind. You filch a grape. You cope
with dimples, tough as nails inwardly
steeling the baby fat, and lift the cup.
Grown men pinch you. Immortal fingers grope.
You need a mother, kid. It falls to me.
—Ellen Kirvin Dudis, Pocomoke City, MD
Eve putters in her new garden
the one she had to plant herself,
the one she had to rake and hoe
and turn, as Adam scorned her
aching back as mental imbalance
caused by pregnancy.
Now she tickles the baby's belly
with soft weeds
and lifts the toddler
above the spongy rows.
Adam mutters that he's tired
and hungry and knows the soup
Eve doesn't miss the old garden,
fruit falling squishy and rank
before she got to choose.
Grasses hiding path and pit,
Adam fat with authority--
a bureaucrat with large desk
and empty drawers.
She doesn't mind the work.
It soothes to be tired
from soil and sun;
she coddles her patience
waits for her seedlings to show.
—Weslea Sidon, Seal Cove, ME
grandma cuts carefully
around the worm hole
apple pie for dinner
—Patricia Schilbe Pottsville, PA
No milk or sugar
to muddle or mollify—
just the black, bitter truth.
—Mark Hart Amherst, MA
All her worries in it, boiling, turning like rags.
She skims them away, down the sink, filthy lather,
chops the wild onions, yard greens, wishing them
more sweet than bitter. Stunted carrots,
barely yellow, next under her knife. The creature,
slit and skinned, as much tail as trunk; the shot
picked out, more bone than tail. She sprinkles in
some dirt from around the cellar door,
the earthen floor there always damp
and blue, salts in a prayer—Dear Jesus,
don't let this be all and soon let there be work that pays,
only please not in Texas. She gives the boy the tail,
though his sister cries for it first. He wears it
hanging from his cap, for a few minutes is happier
to be Davy Crockett than he is hungry.
—Pat Daneman, Lenexa, KS
Casting her eye over the meal
the youngest gathered a forkful
if this, redirecting her eyebrows
to perform an indicative trick,
had a name
When her Father answered Ratatouille
she replied, all the cast or just
the main characters?
—Ruth Arnison, Dunedin, New Zealand
Not one, but two in their paper sheath
from deep in Larry Brooks' ice cream freezer,
two mounting their wooden depressor sticks,
and if your hands were strong
like Joan Rigby's or Peggy Gahagan's
you could break them neatly,
but your mitts were small like your father's
who never strayed, so it took
a sharp whack on the corner of concrete
or back home the flat-palm push on the cleaver
to separate one chill sweet into two,
the opposite, you knew, of marriage, two becoming cold,
not that you would have put two whole popsicles
into your little mouth at once,
though you knew some girls who had big kissers,
Dale Calahan and Claire Rittenbach,
who slipped the double-loadstone
in and down, the limey green,
the grapey purple, the cherry cherry
in the back seat of cars and buses,
let it slide far back without gagging,
but for you, one was giggle enough,
one sweet, one man, one egg,
the bright slide down the throat
and then back juicing the sun.
—Lois Marie Harrod, Hopewell, NJ
I wonder if we'd even care, someone says, if she wasn't so pretty?
As we stare, unable to turn away, at the TV image of Karla Faye Tucker
who will not be given a stay of execution by Governor Bush, who
will die tomorrow morning in Huntsville, Texas.
Protestors hold vigil outside the jail. Advocates for capital punishment
wave placards. The two mobs rumble and surge like bad weather.
From time to time, Karla Faye appears behind the grille, waves
like a martyred queen from her tower. They say she's found God.
It's hard to reconcile this dark-haired beauty with the pickax murderess
who hacked two people to bits while on the drugs that gave meaning
to her prostitute's life. Inside, she's a model prisoner, teaching the others
needlework and handcrafts. She leads the Bible study group.
But what I remember most, all these years later, is that for her final meal,
Karla Faye asked for peaches and yogurt. Peaches and yogurt--
the plainness of it, the near austerity, has always stayed with me.
Easy to swallow, perhaps, under extreme conditions.
Now, when I think of incarceration, of death row or the violence that begets—
I think of Karla Faye, how she might have come to a kind of wisdom—
peaches of course, being sweet and good, as in She's a Peach. The yogurt,
white, tart, a pureness born out of bacillus. Absolution takes many forms.
And I've often wondered what I would say to Karla Faye
if I were assigned to sit with her those last hours,
as she ate her peaches and yogurt. How it would be to watch someone
take their last from this world with no diminution of health or appetite. Only
time running down and out. I think that I would say to Karla Faye:
You will meet these fruits again, where you are going. These
and bountiful supplies beyond… trying to say it with faith, like a prayer
or benediction—and failing. But seeing her eyes light up and seize
on my words as if they formed a stairway of light and peace.
So I can almost bear it
when she sets her spoon to rest
in the empty bowl.
—Marcia F. Brown, Cape Elizabeth, ME