At Grandmother's Table circa 1948
by Wilda Morris
Beginning with a line by Lȇ Thi Diem Thúy
I eat my culture,
the German culture of my great-grandmother
who taught Grandmother to stew tough cuts
of beef till flesh fell from the bone,
taught her to add potatoes, onions,
and carrots to the steaming pot, how
with a little flour stirred into milk,
the broth morphs into rich brown gravy.
I smell chicken simmering on the stove,
watch Grandmother drop dumplings in,
or the homemade noodles she hung
over the back of a chair to dry. I taste
sauerkraut, savor potatoes boiled and buttered,
pan-fried, chopped for soup or salad.
Scents of caraway cookies and Pfeffernusse
seep in from the kitchen.
I eat the culture of Grandfather, too,
mostly English. For him, Grandmother
bakes loaves of white bread
with no recipe but the one in her head,
perfects the art of baking pie. Asked
his favorite kind, Grandfather says, “Hot pie,
cold pie, and more pie,” so she bakes
apple, mincemeat, tart cherry, rhubarb.
At Grandmother’s table I also eat
the culture of Kansas prairie pioneers:
corn bread, corn on the cob, boiled turnips,
home-canned fruits and vegetables,
wild rabbit; and the depression culture
of baked beans and more baked beans.
I eat the middle-class American culture
of Better Homes and Gardens
where Grandmother found the recipe
for Glorified Rice, which she decorates
with marshmallow flowers
for church dinners and holidays.
At every meal Grandfather sits
at the head of the table,
Grandmother at the foot.
I slip into my seat next
to Dorinda, remember to mind
my manners. Grandfather repeats
the same short prayer each meal
before dishes are passed, forks lifted.
Uncle Norman asks for a cup
of dishwater, and we know
he wants coffee, hot and strong,
from the pot in the kitchen.
Sis and I compete for the task
of filling his cup. One day
we conspire, leave dirty dishwater
from breakfast, giggle together
and bring him a cup of gray,
scummy liquid. Grandmother is irate;
we have broken the law of hospitality.
Grandfather says nothing. Uncle Norman
winks and pretends to drink.
|Wilda Morris, Workshop Chair of Poets & Patrons of Chicago, leads workshops for children and adults. Her book, Szechwan Shrimp and Fortune Cookies: Poems from a Chinese Restaurant, was published by RWG Press. Her work appears in such publications as BorderSenses, Alive Now, Turtle Island Quarterly, and Journal of Modern Poetry. Her blog at wildamorris.blogspot.com provides poetry contests for others.|