JUST ASKING Why do you keep feeding us? We don’t give you much: a few bones, some onion skins, now and then something like a token of pinecones and twigs or a lanyard we made at camp. You’re tired, I know. You look tired. And old. All those wrinkles and cracks. And you don’t smell so good, not any more, not even after the rain. What happened to your jewels— those little birds and buggy things? Are you letting yourself go? I wouldn’t blame you since we don’t seem to care much about how you look, or what you do. And where would you go? And when we’re hungry, where will we? Thanksgiving, 2022
rigid draw meadow peer lemon cap
(another one with those words)
SIX TREASURED THINGS: A ZUIHITSU
1. A rigid plastic lawn chair, one of four that my parents kept on the deck of their condominium. I keep it on the front step from spring till snow. I sit there at sunrise and sunset, watching the yellow light flicker like sparks between the leaves.
2. The white linen cap I bought in Traverse City in a shop that sold hats and, unexpectedly, wine-making supplies. A young friend told me that when I wear it, I remind him of Yoko Ono. I wear it often.
3. Our backyard. It was forest, then meadow, then lawn, and it is now growing up again into forest. We’ve reserved a patch of grass around the house, and bits for vegetables and flowers, but what was barren lawn is filling up with grasses and goldenrod, bramble and sumac, gray dogwood and pine and oak. Five years ago, I planted one solemn young chestnut tree as an act of defiance.
4.The drawing of a cat we had for a few months. Her name was Nanette, and she was tri-colored, and very small. The old woman who gave her to us could not keep her. “There’s something wrong with her,” she told us, and there was. In the drawing, Nanette is curled, sleeping, in a chair that once was in the living room and is now in the kitchen. The drawing was made by an artist friend who stayed with us for a summer—along with her husband and three children—in the room that once was our guest room, and is now the study where I write.
5. The lemons I always have by me. Here is a new maxim I try to live by: When in doubt, add lemon. To vegetables, to pastas, to soda water, to soup. The scent of lemon revives me and a lick of lemon opens my senses to all the good in the world that remains.
6. Ursula Le Guin wrote “There was nothing she could do, but there was always the next thing to be done.” I treasure a company of peers—poets, artists, women who keep doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the next.
BY WAY OF CONTRAST
Grandmother’s silver coffeepot—
fine filigree around the handle,
chasing and repoussé patterning the lid.
The matching creamer,
sugarbowl with tongs.
Her white linen napkins,
bone china cups.
My Mr. Coffee maker.
My red ceramic sugar bowl
patterned with spirals and stars.
My white creamer—novel souvenier
from Columbus, Ohio.
My red-checked tablecloth.
My heavy blue pottery mug.
THE CHAIR THAT WAS FIRST OWNED BY MY GREAT-GREAT UNCLE ASA
March Prompt #7
He wasn’t actually my uncle. He was my cousin’s uncle, on the other side of her family, you see, but we called him uncle because of that chair. It was passed on to my cousin’s Great Aunt Martha (not my great-aunt, just hers) who was his second daughter-in-law, and she passed it on to her son Freddy, who of course was my cousin’s actual uncle. He was the youngest in that family. Johnny, the middle one, married a Brady girl, and we have, at least my husband has, connections to the Bradys since his sister-in-law’s first husband was a Brady, and her oldest daughter. She didn’t marry his brother till he died. My husband’s. brother. Anyway, Freddy—my cousin’s real Uncle Freddy but we all called him that, used to come to Thanksgiving at my Aunt Bet’s. She was my cousin’s mother, Dad’s sister. So he was my uncle’s brother by marriage. He was the oldest. Never married. No one ever said why, but we have our suspicions. And one Thanksgiving, when he sat down at the table on that rickety old chair—you know how everybody has to haul out all the chairs at Thanksgiving if there’s a big crowd and there was always a big crowd at Aunt Bet’s since she and Dad were two of seven and Uncle John—not the John who married the Brady girl—that was Freddy’s brother—my uncle who was Aunt Bet’s husband had the same name— was one of four and by then they all had kids, except Uncle Freddy, and she always took in strays besides. People, I mean, but she did take in some cats, too, but mostly they stayed up in the barn except that orange one that everybody called Blink because it was missing an eye. But he sat on that old chair and even though he was pretty skinny it broke under him. Bumped his head on the edge of the table on his way down. We all laughed, and so did he, but he was never the same after. Neither was the chair, so Uncle John threw the chair in the fire and Uncle Freddy had to sit on a stack of apple crates they hauled in from the shed.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE HOUSESITTER
If the door has blown closed, open it.
You do not need a key.
Feed the birds.
There is seed in the blue jar.
Pick the apples, eat the cherries.
Make wine from the grapes.
Do not eat the yellow pears
for they are bitter.
The garden is full
of deep green weeds.
Cook them in oil.
They will make you strong.
When dew shines on the leaves
go out and wet your feet.
The copper basin holds rainwater
to wash your hair.
Milk the goats
at sunrise and sunset.
Drink what you like
and make the cheese.
The dogs will kiss
The cats will sing
you to sleep.
They will tell you
what they wish to eat.
They will tell you
what to dream.
the owls will come.
The great gray owl
will speak. Listen.
greenleaf too limp to carry
loose empires coming Sunday
no mungs avail
keep demoing rasp
and sometimes demo straw
Found at the Food Coöp.
April prompts #31
A Food poem
You haven’t seen all of Warsaw, but you’ve seen three tables.
Cold Chłodnik (you say “whahd-neek”) green with dill.
And Smacznego. The white linen cloth. Plates
of meat and cheeses, salad of tomato
and greens, mushrooms because it’s the season,
Celinka’s pierożki with more mushrooms.
Thick slices of seeded bread and special rolls
from the bakery at the corner, and butter,
and rose petal jam (say “rose petal jam”).
A basket of paper napkins with red,
white and blue stripes in your honor. Gosia’s
blueberry pierogi. Coka-cola, apple juice
because Dominik will run a marathon,
the narrow glasses of vodka or Jarek’s
soul-cleansing mixture, which surely does.
The salty oscypek made by mountain
people. Pickles, ogórków and mushroom.
You are full. Language, and why did Babcia
Florentia go to Cleveland and why
did Frieda stay and why did the Russians
shoot Rudolf on the front steps of the house
where they were born? And the puppy plays
on the floor with the children who have been
excused. Two hours and you are really
full. And in comes Jola with her handsome sons
and she has brought a dish of corn and cream
just for you because you do not eat meat,
and a cheesecake and a mazurek filled
with raisins and walnuts and frosted with
chocolate and this is your family and Edek
fills your glass again and na zdrowie.
And you eat.
NAME THE PLACE
. . if you can, where a woman in black velvet
wears a hat constructed from balloons.
Before a roaring fire,
people are singing Nowell.
Banjo and fiddle, washtub bass and guitar
echo through the hall.
Now everyone is singing
An aproned man carves turkey.
A woman offers a bowl of potatoes.
Boys and girls run to and fro
bearing pitchers, and plates of cake.
A magician pulls
a rainbow from his mouth
while children shout
words to make it real.
Everyone is there:
a man who recently bought oxen,
the one who took a wife,
a woman from the highway,
a beggar from the hedge.
a man most inappropriately dressed,
Santa Claus, and look!
there’s that maiden, all in blue.
. . . going by date, since I certainly haven’t written every day. See what can happen if I get a character?
a poet/professional football player with an eating disorder
A therapist’s office—two chairs, a desk
The therapist is sitting behind the desk when the poet enters. There are items on the desk, pencils and so on. During the scene, the therapist periodically picks something up and fiddles with it.
Therapist: Sit down, sit down.
Poet: Thank you. sits
Therapist: So. What do you want to talk about?
Poet: Food. I mean, food, really. I want to talk about food.
Therapist: Say more.
Poet: Well, I mean, I like it. I really like it. I eat it all the time. I have to, for work. I mean, I play football, right, so I have to stay bulked up. So I eat. Food. Steaks and chops and all like that. Bread. Donuts. Cake. Hamburgers. Ice cream. My favorite is chocolate but I like cherry and peach and chunky monkey and strawberry and even sherbet. Lemon, orange, lime. That mixture, you know, that’s striped together. You can scoop it out in your bowl so it looks like a rainbow. Salad—not as much salad as I oughta, but some. Just lettuce and tomato is the best with French dressing or blue cheese. Hotdogs but with just mustard, no relish. French Fries. Pie. Apple pie is the best, but rum raisin is pretty good. And date cream. And coconut cream. And banana cream. Pumpkin if it’s not canned. Mincemeat on Thanksgiving, but not with ice cream, and peach. And. . .
Therapist: It seems to me that you talk about food.
Poet: Right. You’ve got it. Once I start talking about food, I can’t stop. I mean, if I even think about it, right, I start talking about it. Baked beans. Macaroni and cheese. . .
Therapist: interrupting I see. I see. Your job is football. I recognize you, as a matter of fact, and I’m a fan, but that ought not to affect our work together. Unless, of course, you have a problem with that.
Poet: I don’t. Really. I mean, everybody who watches football knows who I am, so I’d have trouble finding a therapist who doesn’t know who I am. And even if they don’t watch football, there are those mustard commercials I do. You know where I eat hotdogs like it’s a test of some kind and one is plain, just in a bun, you know one of those soft kind of buns, not the whole wheat ones. Those are weird. If you’re going to eat a hotdog, you shouldn’t bother with whole wheat, unless you’re having a tofu hotdog but those are gross so why bother. And they say that a bunch of them even have meat in them anyway so what’s the point. And one of the hotdogs has relish and mustard and the other has just mustard and I always say in the commercial that I like the one with plain mustard the best, and I do, really. Relish kind of interferes with the taste of the hotdog, but mustard enhances it, if you know what I mean. Especially that red pepper relish. . .
Therapist: interrupting I understand that you also write poetry.
Poet: I do. I kinda like to have that as a sideline, you know. It gives me something to think about when I’m working out. Words. How they go together. LIke hotdog and mustard. Hotdog and mustard. Hotdog and mustard. Hotdog and mustard. . .
Therapist: I see. So do you write poems about food. . .
Poet: interrupting I most write about food. I like the way food words go together. Brown bread and butter. Turkey and stuffing. Potatoes and gravy. Pancakes and syrup. Bacon and eggs. Steak and eggs. BLT. That’s one of my favorites. BLT. BLT. BLT. BLT. BLT. ..
Therapist: interrupting I understand. What is your past experience with food? When you were a child, for instance?
Poet: I liked it. Mom says I was, like, always a good eater. A good little trencherman she said, whatever that means. She used to cut up hotdogs and put them into baked beans and I liked those. And chicken a la king. I like the sound of that, too. A la king. A la king. A la king.
Therapist: I can see that. So you always had enough to eat growing up?
Poet: Oh yeah. Mom was a good cook. Good mac and cheese, good hamburger casserole, good meatloaf. With baked potato and squash, usually and pie for dessert. And peanut butter sandwiches on homemade bread. With honey. Or jam. Or jelly. Or fluff.
Therapist: How long have you had this problem? Talking about food?
Poet: Is it a problem?
Therapist: Is it? I assumed that’s why you came to see me.
Poet: No! Why would that be a problem? No, I came to see you because my girlfriend wants to break up and I’m pretty depressed about that. We’ve been together for, like, five years.
Therapist: What are the reasons she gives for breaking up with you?
Poet: Communication. She says we have a communication problem.
Therapist: And how do you respond to that?
Poet: Well, I tell her that I don’t think we do. We go out all the time for dinner and talk. Chinese food, Mexican, sometimes Thai, but I don’t like that as well, and she doesn’t like Indian as much as I do because it’s too hot for her, even if she only gets the mild. Good old diner food sometimes, you know, hot turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce and some pickled beets on the side. And sometimes we go out to breakfast. She always gets just yogurt and granola, though, so I don’t see the point. And I like sausage gravy on biscuits. Or sometimes three eggs over easy, or a cheese omelet with white toast. And sometimes. . .
Therapist: What does your girlfriend like to talk about?
Poet: Oh, well, she talks about plants. She grows a lot of plants. African violets and things. Ferns. Those hanging ones with the shiny leaves. Stuff like that. She talks about those all the time. They need water and stuff. Fertilizer. But she doesn’t have a garden outdoors. Just house plants. Nothing she can eat. But she has room, and sometimes I’m like, “Hey, you could like grow spinach and broccoli and lettuce and tomatoes and all like that. Grow your own stuff for BLTs except the bacon part. I really like that combination: BLT, BLT, BLT . . . .
The therapist slowly gets up and extis, while the poet happily repeats BLT until the curtain comes down