Secret Ingredient


Today is National Poetry Day in the UK. I’m envious, as I have been longing for our own country’s celebration of poetry throughout the month of April when I get to feature poems I love from other poets.

Recently I talked poetry with Vick Mickunas on his WYSO radio program, Book Nook (you can listen to it here). We talked about accessible poems, which I prefer and which I hope that I write (as opposed to what-the-hell-does-that-mean poems). I recited a few of my own poems, some published, some not. One of them was “Secret Ingredient,” which got published in the Santa Clara Review this year.

I’ve talked before on this blog about aiming for at least 100 rejections a year (I’m at 93 as of today for 2018), which I don’t mind getting because it just means I’m that much closer to an acceptance. It also means that any acceptance letter I do get is a gift, and when I get a generous letter—as I did from Santa Clara Review—that details exactly why the editors chose my work, well, that’s a golden gift. Reading that acceptance letter made me cry (in a good way).

In honor of National Poetry Day in the UK, I’m posting my poem, “Secret Ingredient,” because someone in California liked it enough to publish it, and for that I am very grateful.

Secret Ingredient

When I want to please my father, I cook butternut squash. 
Peel and boil, broth and curry, mash the soft squash 
against the sides of the silver pot that for two decades has managed magic:
solids to liquids, disparate to inextricably together.

When I want to comfort my mother, I bake fudgey cake from a tattered
recipe that calls for cups of chocolate chips, pecan halves, cocoa
powder. Glaze slips down the sides, solidifies when cool. 
My mother shaves off slivers, licks the knife clean.

When I want to feed my sister, it’s white bean soup: great northern,
grown in the Midwest, just like we were, where one summer she painted 
the picket fence, and I cooked us two frozen dinners: salisbury steaks,
gravy, potatoes, apple pie. Cicadas rattled songs from trees after seventeen years.
The sun hung onto the early evening sky, the light of youth and never enough. 
We ate sitting cross-legged on the grass, scraping the bottom of our tin trays.

For my husband, it’s red lentils with cayenne pepper, 
a squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro. When we’ve run out of words, 
I add a dollop of sour cream, and it melts into the dish without needing answers. 
When he’s tired, when he’s down, I bake a yogurt custard pie with berries,
a crust crushed from ginger snaps and strawberry jam. 
It’s a dessert of opposites: baked then chilled, sweet yet tart,
the outside cracked, the inside soft. 

When I miss the once, the used to be, I soak black beans overnight
as stars slip across the Southern sky. In the morning, I add bay leaves,
more than necessary. My mother used to make it look so easy:
chopped onions, minced garlic, cumin and coriander and a long boil. It is simple 
but takes some time. Toward the end I shred tortillas, crack open eggs 
and drop them in, wait until the yolks cloud over, 
a pan of yellow eyes going blind.

“Secret Ingredient” was originally published in Santa Clara Review. Thank you for this honor.

A special thanks to Vick Mickunas for inviting me onto the Book Nook. It was a true pleasure.

If you missed my posts during National Poetry Month, you can find them here, featuring work from all these fabulous poets: Ada Limón’s “How to Triumph Like a Girl,” Ariel Francisco's "For the Man Pushing His Mixtape on the Corner of Biscayne and 167th," Courtney LeBlanc's "Self-Portrait as a Thunderstorm," Denise Weuve's "The Haircut," and Whitney Roberts Hill’s “Sorrow.”)