April 19, 2018

Heirloom (Old Poem / New Poem)

People sometimes ask how to know when a poem is "Done." I resist that term, actually; I think of poems as ideas and insights gathered to the consciousness of the poet. The text on the page (or as delivered live, in readings) is always just the best possible approximation the 'poem' available to that poet at the given moment. There's no one definitive version.

The practical advantage of that attitude is that I try to be easygoing about accepting other people's edits to my poems, or even typos in reproduction. Poems aren't cars; you can't ding their bodywork or crack their glass. Poems are clouds you get to ride for a little while, if you're lucky. Then the vapor yields to rain. Then you start over. 

All of which is to say that I revise freely, sometimes heavily, as part of a poem's journey from draft to magazine publication to appearing in a book. I published a variation on this poem in 2013 via the southern Foodways Alliance's Gravy. Same title. But when I hunkered down with history--one of the central organizing principles of this new collection--I wanted to adjust the focus. The result feels like a new poem.



Heirloom


Lo, twelve children born to a woman named Thankful
in Nampa, by the border between Idaho
and Oregon. Lo, two brothers drive to Miami
not knowing if their plan will work.
Lo, what were once waste scraps fed to the cows
now repackaged—the fry shavings sliced, spiced, and oiled.
Lo, a chef at the Fountainebleau takes the bribe.
Lo, Tater Tots are dished onto the tables
of the 1954 National Potato Convention and soon,
enshrined in the freezers of America. Three decades later,
the golden age of my childhood is a foil-lined tray
plattered with Ore-Ida product, maybe some salt, maybe
nothing but the hot anticipation of my fingertips.
Lo, my mother is an amazing cook and Lo,
my grandmother is a terrible one, but on the tinfoil plains
they are equal. I need you to understand
why my father will never enjoy a ripe tomato
glistening, layered in basil. Put away your Brandywines,
your Cherokee Purples, your Green Zebras.
Lo, as with spinach, as with olives, he tastes only
the claustrophobia his mother unleashed from cans
to feed four children on a budget. We talk little of this.
Lo, what is cooked to mush.
Lo, what is peppered to ash. Lo, the flavor
rendered as morning chore—that this, too, is a form of love.



4 comments:

J.L Moultrie said...

I like your poem. It is transportive and well sequenced.

Dave Bonta said...

This makes such an important point about comfort foods. Also, I couldn't agree more with your approach to poetic texts. Could we extend the culinary analogy and say that a poem is almost like a recipe from which each reader or editor prepares it anew? OK, maybe that's a bit hyperbolic...

Yuki Jackson said...

I love this poem. Talk about elevating the ordinary into extraordinary.

Novae Litterature said...

A new literary magazine awaits you!

The Poesis Literary Magazine seeks poetry for the 2018 first issue.
Poesis - http://poesis.unaux.com/ - is an independent, international, free-access literary journal. We are an online journal, exclusively. It’s like a desert where you can build your literary home. Because the acceptance rate for almost all literary journals is about 5%, we decide to open our house for quality work but without quantitative limitations. We are not interested in porn, racial slurs, excessive gore, or obscenity. We are dedicated to discovering and publishing the finest original poetry. We prefer expressive poems that give us a feeling and affect our soul. We accept texts that have already been published, but please specify where they were first published. We publish quarterly, and we accept submissions year-round. We attempt to respond to submissions within twelve weeks. Make sure to send us your work as soon as possible so that we have the chance to consider it for our first issue.
Good luck!