The Huffington Post’s Kara Ramonetti, an associate producer of HuffPost Live, asked me via MooingAround to help her get in touch with Traci Barr, who is published on this website. The two connected, and Traci appeared on HuffPost Live Monday, Aug. 17, discussing the topic: “Why Group Therapy Can Produce Great Results.” The segment grew out of a New York Times article by David Payne, who appeared on the show along with Daphne Leahy-Matteo, Psychoanalyst; Licensed Clinical Social Worker; Somatic Experiencing Practitioner.
The poem “Seeing” popped into my head while I was reflecting upon the way I felt about a man who told me he loved me…and then who chose to not act upon his feelings.
I eventually came to believe that he said he was in love with me just for the “thrill” of it and in order to stroke his own ego.
Because he speaks a lot about the subject of love, I wrote this poem in response to what, I thought, was his hypocrisy. In the relatively brief interaction I had with him, my own ideas about love changed quite a lot, and I began to think of him as a used-car salesman.
Sometimes an idea for a poem will start rattling around in my head in a way that becomes very, very distracting.
The only way to make the rattling go away is for me to…write the poem.
A Jersey gal taps her Southern roots and shares her take on Geechee red peas, sweet tea, barbecue and Frogmore stew, too in two poems, “Covered Dishes,” and “Verna.” She writes about Southern cooking as the mother of cuisine, but she’s not quite sure what y’all are really thinking when you bite into her genteel pimento cheese spread and say, “Bless your heart.”
It is said that true Southern hospitality
begins in the kitchen,
where you can find the makings
of a covered dish
or a cast iron skillet filled with corn pone
or a heaping of poke sallet,
poisonous until cooked,
Geechee red peas, sweet tea,
barbecue and Frogmore stew, too;
a little okra or gumbo,
some grits for good measure –
perhaps for a family picnic or a church social,
attended by true Southern gentlemen
and their antebellum lady guests.
Is there enough for everyone at mealtime?
Of course there is…
this is the South,
a place that stands apart
more than any other in America,
a place of moonlight and magnolias and manners;
a place of live oaks and Spanish moss;
a place with a history of plantations, Textile League baseball,
bo weevils, King Cotton and cotton mills,
buildings where work was done that mattered to folks;
buildings where cloth was once cranked out by the country mile;
buildings that now provide trendy, loft-style living
for the presumably trendy newcomers
who can afford to occupy them.
I am an outsider and take an emic approach to the South itself.
From the many fields of bletted, landrace Carolina Gold;
to the Low Country, flavored with a little Gullah terroir;
to the Upstate’s peach orchards, all sticky and sweet;
the stories of the South are told in its food.
I would go so far as to say that Southern cooking
is the mother cuisine of this country.
But, as I sip that last drop of savory potlikker
left behind in a vessel of braised collard greens,
I sometimes wonder what really goes on down here,
below the Mason-Dixon.
Because, while you are taking a bite,
dainty as it is,
of that genteel pimento cheese spread,
which I have spent time making just for you,
you are thanking me and saying,
in the very same breath,
“Bless your heart.”
And I am not quite sure y’all
are necessarily wishing me well
when you say that to me.
My grandmother, Verna,
was a true Southern belle,
worried what the neighbors would think,
delicate, fragile, willful, vain.
My Lord, she had cotillions and corsages,
the vapors, gentleman callers,
the whole damn archetypal nine yards.
I imagine she bought her groceries
at the local Piggly Wiggly.
There wasn’t a Whole Foods to shop in –
not back then.
When I was little,
I called her long distance every Sunday,
just to hear her sweet Southern drawl.
I had a long list of favorite words
that I would ask her to repeat.
And then I, a budding cook, would beg her to tell me,
for probably the hundredth time,
the story of how hushpuppies got their name.
“Hush, puppy,” she would say, over and over again,
as she described how those little balls of fried cornmeal
were tossed to quell the yapping of hungry Confederate dogs.
Ever the paragon of Southern manners,
she always patiently obliged me.
Grandma often drank too much
and during the summertime,
when I would visit her in Kentucky,
a universe away from my home at the Jersey shore,
she would creep into the guest room at night where I slept,
wake me and tell me
I was the most beautiful little girl
in the whole wide world,
stroking my hair and slurring her words.
because she was drunk,
and believing I was, in fact, the ugliest little girl
in the whole wide world,
I did not buy it for a single minute –
the evidence was so distinctly in my favor.
Grandma was very radiant and a touch crazy
and her vanity eventually got the best of her.
She faded and slipped further and further away,
refusing to allow even me, her favorite, to see her
when she became completely disfigured by illness.
But in my mind she remained
a true Southern belle to the very end.