I have written poetry and short fiction all my life and published a lot of it. My day job is editor of a trade publication Illinois Racing News. I live on a small horse farm in northern Illinois with my husband and various animals. My latest book, "Ribcage," (from Glass Lyre Press) recently won the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. I also am an associate editor of FutureCycle Press and Kentucky Review.
Putting up the Produce
Glass jars glow in dimness. Pale jade
Of peas or lima beans, the garnet hearts
Of beets, tinged amber of peaches, crushed pearl
Of applesauce. Jewelers of the garden,
My mother and her sisters putting up
Everything that rose and bristled
Or hid its gritty treasure
In the dirt. They plundered trees. They
Went to market with their baskets
Collecting riches. Cast iron pots rattled
At the boil, the hot jars filled, rubber lips
Secured the way that secrets
Were kept—were screwed into Sunday
Missals. All winter from the cellar to the table.
Occasionally an explosion like a child
In a tantrum. My mother said it had
Gone bad. Tone of disapproval dull
As a fork dropped on linoleum.
Tommy’s overdose. Uncle Andy who forgot
His name and blacked the eye of his wife of
Sixty years. Whispers sealed in jars
Covered in dust to be discovered
Years later when a woman of forty comes to visit,
Child of a maiden cousin, birthed in seclusion,
And now here, real as ruby preserves
Set out in crystal saucers.
Rose red, Snow white duality,
it might have been a radish
that inspired such myths.
A perfect belly
of tartness, sharp, crisp, cool
and hot simultaneously
like an embarrassment,
a word spoken you can't take back
or the crazy love affair
you knew was going nowhere.
Turret of tang, peasant in a red cap,
not sweet not bitter
but purely itself, fast grower
shirking dirt from its Kremlin
pushing like a birth.
Smart as a slap,
nothing bloody about it,
brazen as a backside
jeering the salad from riddance
to uproar. Take this
red fist, white flesh
polka dancer, papoose, full purse.
Red vinyl booths patched with duct tape.
Mismatched coffee mugs.
Old farm implements: scythes and saws escaped
From toil to hang on the paneled walls. Hugs
For the waitress top-heavy with thirty years
Of handing over sticky menus
Whose offerings never change. Here’s
A chalked blackboard with todays venues:
Half-priced specials: Western omelet,
Beef barley soup. Liver and onions.
Drink your coffee. Sit.
The best biscuits and gravy, bar none,
(claims a woman and her hubby)
In the country, so it’s said.
An entrée called Ode to Bubby
For a cook long dead.
Scrambling for donations,
They must institute new rules:
How often and how much.
A woman hauls a weary child
While an infant bawls
In its stroller.
An old man picks through
Cans of beans. The rice is
All but gone.
The volunteer says the cub scouts
Will hold a fundraiser soon
And the local bank is asking
Customers to bring in boxes
Of staples. The room is dim,
Shelves half empty.
People mull about, seeking to fill
Their sacks. A small boy says
Down the street, a pet store
Hangs a sign out
Feed the Birds.
School lunch: baloney sandwich, plain. No butter,
Mayo, mustard. I am known
As a fussy eater. My mother
Thought people who liked eating were obscene.
Gross acts of bodies. When we shopped
She gorged greedily on fudge sundaes,
At home sucked broth in penance. Sometimes
She cracked walnuts and picked the meats
Daintily with a silver tool. I thought
The hollowed world would look like that
Irregular but perfectly clean.
My mother served boiled potatoes, unsalted lamb,
Tuna out of cans. I ate raw carrots
From our garden pulled directly from the dirt
And wild mint, spruce needles,
Nectar sucked from phlox.
My mother worshiped restraint,
My father health.
I simply didn’t know the taste of things.
Suspicion rose in my heart like floodwaters
When Mrs. Adducci tried to feed me spaghetti,
when Mrs. Person made Swedish meatballs,
when the roadside café married eggs to grits.
At the dinner table I rolled my bread into balls
Pastel as the Sunday host I had to swallow whole
And flavorless, an air-puffed masquerade.
Now, I wield seasonings with abandon,
Try any new taste, any strangeness,
Seagull wings, snake’s tongues, a wealth
Of passion fruit, coriander,
Saffron and sea salt.
I dip thin oblongs of meat
Into delicate Thai peanut sauce.
Far away, my mother takes out her teeth
Dunking bread in milk without sweetening.
I pummel stone-ground dough into a shape
For rising. It doubles like love given for no reason
Here’s what I have learned
That death in life is never
Knowing what is good.
©2016 Joan Colby
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