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Poet of the Week: James Cagney

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The Fire in Her Eyes Redefines an Apple

The ritual of fruit beings again in June
when buckets of smiling plums and blistered peaches
arrive for her in cars altering our kitchen into a
steaming workshop. Soon,
blackened pots boil with our
life’s winter blood. She quickly
buries the dead in a cemetery of
sugar where apricots and pears await to be
baptized and born again
as jam and jelly.

Late summer brings chopped
cabbages, cucumbers and ancient
spices, all bathed in a sauna of
hot vinegar and crushed red peppers.
The walls of our kitchen come alive
with the sweat of our ancestors
who live again through annual recipes.
The dead continue to feed the living with
greasy fingers, stuffing our mouths
with the sweet cuisine of history.

She leads us to her garden and motions
over a brief field of greens. Their vibrant
tongues lap sunlight like thirsty dogs.
She tells us, “This is a lost art,”
and warns that our wives will be useless to our children.
Weeping, she lets us smell her hands,
and the odor of 40 years-worth of
stewed tomatoes, summer squash,
sweet corns and candied yams
comes to us like saddened ghosts.

She instructs us, at the moment of her death,
to sprinkle her body with salt
under her skin becomes white with dandelions,
place her in our biggest pot
and simmer to a low gravy. Seal her up
in the tomb of a glass jar, store her
in a cool, dry place,
and save her till the fog of poverty
settles in the valley of our ignorance,
when there’s only rainwater, credited bread,
and the memory of meat.

James Cagney’s Poets Tour