Mycelium by Wilda Morris

At Grandmother's Table circa 1948 by Elizabeth Langemak

Taste by Patridge Boswell

Lullaby by Edward Mayes

Shakespeare by James B. Nicola

Summer Night by Diane Giardi

100 Words on My Father with a Big Fish by Jan Presley

Why go to heaven yet by Margo Davis

Roll Over Beethoven by Jonathan Pacic

limnophila aromatica by Susan Soriano

Bantams by Heather Bourbeau

Salt by Carolyn Wells

It Won't Taste the Same by Michelle Morouse

The Fallacy of Comparisons by Paul Lieber

Ode to End of Summer by Wally Swist

408 Dates with Maureen by Gail Bellamy

Taste Testing by Sarah Fawn Montgomery

A Meditation on Working as a Produce Clerk by Ross Stager

Le Fouquet by Elisa Albo

Two Poems by Sarah Paley

Transubstantiation by Susan O'Dell Underwood

Two Poems by Sharon Abra Hanen

Strawberries by Vincent Peloso

Chin Chin by Jessica M. Brophy

Nonpareil by Lois Rosen

Creating Foodie Monsters by Elisa Albo

Foods I Love by Meredith Drake

Three Poems by Terence Winch

Soufflé by Piscilla Atkins

Three Poems by Gail Peck

Under the Kitchen Floor by Bruce Cohen

Spring Peas Come to the Stores by Hannah Fischer

Two Poems by Grace Bauer

Kettle by Susan Kelly-DeWitt

Going to Get Swedish by Carol Berg

Potluck on Sulphur Creek by Brenda Butka

My Mother's Handwriting by Julia Wendell

Radish by Lauren Henley

The Way of the Buddha by Nadia Ibrashi

Famine Bread by Karen Holmberg

Leer Comida by Andrés Catalán

Cooking Show by Gary Mesick

Museum of Butter by Carol Jenkins

Two Poems by Crystal Simone Smith

Yardbird Suite by John Dufresne

Famine Bread

Östergötland province, Sweden, 1868

by Karen Holmberg

October 2012    

Barefoot time. The fields flash
a silver skin of water, like the tilted belly
of a perch. The church bells peal out dolefully
behind him and he’s free, he’s free, he’s tempted
to exult. But the prowl of hunger in his gut
makes him walk instead of run. In his pocket
the potato is still warm, and he takes it out
to inspect the loosened, wrinkly skin,
the leather where the eyes
were gouged. It’s all he has,
and he knows to wait until his head
feels light. He’s hung the wooden handle
of his father’s drawknife on his shoulder, long
as a crutch. He feels the blade’s edge, even
through the padding of his coat. The other handle
knocks his shinbone painfully. He need not go
to church today, his mother said, and sent him
to the woods to strip off bark, to gather
white moss and fiddleheads at the field’s edge.
Wavelets crumble brightly,
shoved by sudden gusts of wind.
Other boys sail curls of white
birch bark on the reflected clouds, but he knows
what water means. That the rye seeds
are drowning in their bed. That there won’t be
any bread come fall.
Walk past the manor park, she said, to the pasture
turning back to birch grove. Choose trunks
no larger than his thigh. The knife’s handles
spread his arms wide. He stretches
his back to reach as high as he is able, draws
the blade down quickly to the ground.
Squatting, he watches the stripe, pale
yellow as a wound before the blood springs up.
Quietly the sap comes forward, beads
like sweat. The folded over skin is thin and dappled
as a fawn’s. He takes the potato out and rubs it
over his lips, breathes in the cake-like sweetness.
He can wait. He knows he eats the fall crop,
for his father cried there will be
naught to plant
when his mother begged
a seed potato for her son. Johan, she pressed,
he gathers bread for us. Then she kneeled
between him and his father, grasping
a handful of his sleeve, pressing
her other hand into his chest.
He must place his palm on the trunk,
like so, and beg forgiveness of the spirit
in the woods. She made him promise.
He thinks of the one thing
of value he has saved and vows to give it
to her after church,
the piece of barley candy from his brother’s
funeral, wrapped in black crepe
with gilded lettering They Shall Reap in Joy.
He knows what reaping is.
He licks the wounded trunk, wondering
at its faint sweetness. How
the tree pulls such things from the earth.
They die for our sins, he thinks.
This is my body, he hears the priest say.
His mother prays for the flooded fields.
Right now the priest is placing on her tongue
the yellow wafer, thin as the inner bark
she will soak tonight, then bake to crispness
over coals, then grind in the stone mortar.
Hours he will lie awake, listening
to the pestle’s tooth. The morning bread
will be so tough and dense his jaw
will ache. The priest says
bark bread gives spiritual strength to man.
He’s glad the woods will go inside him.
He wants the quiet power of things
that would not speak of their sufferings
even if they had a tongue.


  Karen Holmberg’s second book of poems, Axis Mundi, won the John Ciardi Prize and will be published in the fall of 2012 by BkMk Press. Her poetry and nonfiction has appeared in such magazines as Southern Poetry Review, Nimrod, The New England Review, West Branch, Cave Wall, Black Warrior Review, Poetry East, Indiana Review, and Cimarron Review. She teaches poetry writing in the MFA program at Oregon State University.


Photo "used under Creative Commons.