A poem begins with a lump in your throat ~~ Robert Frost


Miss Lizzie’s Kitchen

Turnip greens, green beans, green tomatoes

in the garden just outside Miss Lizzie’s screen door,

Mason jars of yellow-orange peaches,

dense purple-red beets, bread and butter pickles;

Slow-cooked chicken dripping from the bone –

she had raised the chicken, wrung its neck,

watched it flap and flop all over the yard,

blood soaking the ground.

Her father took her out of school at ten,

put her to work in the Georgia fields,

Girls don’t need to learn to read.

Sweet acrid collards, creamed corn,

Big Boy and Beefsteak tomatoes.

Once the law allowed, Miss Lizzie

never missed voting. In Sunday-best,

hair freed from the rag she tied around it

during the week and braided into a crown,

she rode to the polls with my mother

who wore gathered skirts and tailored blouses,

a soft bun at the nape of her neck,

a little rouge her only make-up.

Ages identical, skin colors and stations distinct,

these women named one another “Sister,”

shared five decades of secrets,

I’m gonna take what I know to the grave,

so jus’ don’t ask.

But at eighty-five she told me of the day

she stood between my mother’s parents

until they made peace – no other details;

told me of anger, still, with her father

for cutting short her education,

I could have been something!

Chestnuts freed from porcupine burrs,

sweet potato pies cooling on the windowsill.

Warmth flooded Miss Lizzie’s winter kitchen,

tiny beads of sweat lined her summer brow,

one-eighth Cherokee. We were forbidden

to mention her Indian heritage;

she’d been taught Indian blood is dirty.

We wondered if that one-eighth accounted

for her acute hearing, her dead-eye shot

with a .22 Remington rifle,

her care of others, black and white equally.

Every so often she’d come by our house,

Can I borrow a little change?

always for someone else – for bail, for brakes,

a funeral, a back alley abortion or to repair one.

We knew better than to ask,

or to mention her husband,

succumbed to syphilis before I was born.

Black-eyed peas shelled in a white enameled pot,

butter rounds crosshatched with a knife handle,

a black iron skillet of steaming corn bread.


© Red Clay, Eve Hoffman

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