For our November Poetry We Admire, we have rounded up some of the best new poems we could find out there around the theme of Food & Family.
There is an ode to home, hurt, love, and healing and a poem in praise of Reynolds Wrap that is ultimately an elegy. There is daydreaming in a grocery store imagining reaching out to strangers, a father’s hands carrying liquor & ice cream, daughters watching a mother slowly fading away, a mama and grandma leading a family and feeding all the hungry mouths, and a recipe for honoring the ancestors, a ritual of mourning. These poems show us how food is tied up with memory, family, love, and loss.
This month we feature poems from Parentheses Journal, SWWIM, BOAAT Press, Poets Reading the News, The Hellebore Press, and Juke Joint Magazine. Let us share in a holiday feast of words from the grocery aisle to the roast and sautéed greens with ice cream and peach cobbler for dessert, and Reynolds-wrapped leftovers for later.
It’s all served up with love and gratitude for these delicious poems and for our extended poetry family. Blessings to you all and Happy Thanksgiving!
Crisp cold bags of butterhead lettuce,
big-stalked celeries, savoy cabbage
rimpled like the folds of a big emerald
brain, yellow and orange bells.
I don’t have enough money
for any of these.
by Eddie Krzeminski in Juke Joint Magazine
What I love about this poem, in addition to the music of the language and the excitement of the stream of consciousness daydreams, is the vibrant imagery and metaphor (cabbage = a big emerald brain) and the yearning for community (i.e. the narrator earnestly seeking a connection with the red-haired girl leaning over the freeze-dried plums and Charon hauling the carcasses of spoiled fruit-stuff). We completely relate to the speaker’s confusion among the “pink menagerie of meats” and their urge to reach out and embrace the “phantom hands” of the man in the mint green shirt standing behind the shelves pushing out the new milk cartons. It’s that quirkiness, vulnerability, and desire for human connection that drives this poem right into my heart.
In the afterlife of colonialism, one woman
must announce the murder of another sister.
Reader, please place the chicatanas,
garlic cloves, tree chilis, coastal chili peppers,
and slice of onion in a molcajete and grind them
(Feel free to add a pinch
of water and salt, or tears.)
by Alan Palaez Lopez in Poets Reading the News
If you’re not yet familiar with the work of Afro-Indigenous poet/artist/activist/scholar Palaez Lopez, start following them now. They have a chapbook coming out this year and a full-length collection forthcoming in 2020. In the meantime, enjoy this spine-tingling recipe for chicatanas salsa which is a prayer of mourning and remembrance of Carmela Parral Santos, mayor of a small Oaxacan town. Santos opposed deforestation and was found murdered in August because of her stance. The recipe calls for, among a list of other ingredients, “either water OR tears / salt (no salt if using tears),” “the strength of five generations of ancestors,” “2 dozen roasted chicatanas” (flying ants); “2 roasted garlic cloves,” “a love for all things Black,” and “a commitment to Indigenous life, everywhere.” There are instructions for how to arrange the adobe bricks with two white candles and Carmela Parral’s photograph, along with freshly picked mint to inhale, to commit “to care” and to “experiment with life, / always.”
& my mama is my president, her grace stunts
on amazing, brown hands breaking brown bread over
mouths of the hungry until there are none unfed
from “my president”
by Danez Smith in BOAAT Press
The incomparable Danez Smith has done it again with this “mighty anthem” declaring a new president or many new presidents including: Eve Ewing, Colin Kaepernick, Rihanna, Shonda Rhimes, “the trans girl making songs in her closet,” “the boys outside the Walgreens selling candy,” the “neighbor who holds the door open when my arms are full of laundry,” “the meter maid who lets you slide,” “beyonce & all her kids,” etc. At the heart of the poem is the speaker’s mama with her “brown hands breaking brown bread” and their grandma whose “cabinet is her cabinet / cause she knows to trust what the pan knows / how the skillet wins the war.” I want to live in this land of fierce women leading the way, this country where love rules.
I will take you in my hands
stuff your holes with omelets, roasts, sautéed greens
convince you that loving doesn’t hurt
that it won’t leave you wandering an unlit hallway
climbing a hedgerow of thorns.
from “Scar Tissue”
by Christine Taylor in Parentheses Journal
Taylor, who is also the Head Editrix of Kissing Dynamite, writes beautifully of a house as a place of refuge where the narrator is always fixing broken things— the gutter, the shutters, the cabinet door hanging on its hinge,”the old thermostat that insisted on 80 degrees in summer, /the cracked wooden door ushering in the cold, / the sniffly stray ginger kitten blind in one eye.” The narrator, like many of us, shows love by taking care of home and the people in it, by cooking for them, and repairing/healing what’s broken.
You close your mouth
to the spoon’s cool curve,
not impressed with the cubes
of summer melon. Soon, you
will refuse other favorites,
maple nut ice cream, clusters
by Kami Westhoff in SWWIM
Westhoff’s heartbreaking poem takes us inside a family where the adult daughters are feeding their mother the summer melon that once brought her joy, but she is gradually starting to refuse even her favorite foods, closing her mouth around the spoon. The last stanza is especially moving, as the melon is representative of love the way food so often is: “you were teaching us everything / we’d ever need to know about love. / The way it halves us. Slices us./ Carves the best of us from what / cannot be swallowed. Closes / its mouth to the rest.”
Large canteens filled with liquor & ice-cream,
Releasing pressure wherever we’d go—
The feed store, the rig, to buy chicken
From KFC—behind him, I’d walk
by Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick in SWWIM
There are several standout poems in SWWIM this quarter that relate to the Food & Family theme, and this one shows it’s not just mothers who are associated with food. Hardwick’s poem engages the reader in a father-daughter relationship. I particularly admire the metaphor of the father’s hands as large canteens filled with liquor, ice cream, and chicken from KFC. And I love how the title drops us right into the surprising and bewitching first line with the lovely and dangerous imagery that follows, hinting at family secrets (“What his mother carved into him, a curse.” / It will befall you, too.”)
pyrex serving pan lip / baked macaroni or peach cobbler / cobbled armor jagged ridges / lunchbox sandwich sheath / sheets sheets sheets shimmer
by Quintin Collins in The Hellebore Press
We close out this poetic feast with peach cobbler and leftovers. Leave it to a poet to praise common things like how the Reynolds wrap “sheets sheets sheets shimmer.” I admire the music of this poem, its consonance and slant rhyme with sounds and imagery like “sheets spun round cardboard swords.” Once we’re beguiled by its music, the poem takes us to a more personal, vulnerable place when we discover that the narrator’s grandfather worked for Reynold’s Metals and his retirement gift was a beluga watch, which the narrator’s uncle places in his palm at the grandfather’s funeral to “save a piece of his father for later.”