Monday, November 23, 2009


We are three and six and eight
and all we hunger for are the ambiguous shapes
that huddle beneath the tree, their entities obscured
by gussy prints and packaging. Skirting
and prodding their edges with our tiny fingers,
we play maddening guessing games
and feel shameful of our secret greed
on this most sacred occasion.

Our begging is no match for tradition,
and we will eat dinner before opening presents,
as we have always done. Sitting restlessly
at our little fold-out card table, we make a pact
to eat quickly – but then there is turkey
and stuffing and gravy and cabbage rolls
        (I surgically slit the roll with my butter knife,
        plunder the rice and bacon entrails, and
        turn the offending cabbage over to my father,
        the family trash compactor)
all shaped and roasted by my aunt and grandmother
like a song born of love and thin air. Moist breading
and soft butter are an unforeseen distraction.

Pop can empty and mouth dry, I sniff
at my grandfather’s glass of Coke for that telltale stink
        (a few unexpected sips of bitter rye
        taught all the grandchildren to sniff first)
and sneak gulps from my father’s glass instead.

Then dessert: the torture
of having to wait for every adult to finish
their coffee, not only so we can get to the presents
but also so we can eat the leftover éclairs.
We kick at each other under the table, antsy
with sugar highs, and wonder aloud
        (purposely too loud)
how anyone can take sooo long
to finish a little cup of coffee.

Our mothers shush us
and ask for refills, but we know
eventually our fathers will cave.

This poem was written in response to Prompt #102 on Read Write Poem.

Thanks to all the people who helped me win the ThoseGirlsAreWild Contest! Check out the winner post, in which the amazing Andrea sings my requested Stevie Wonder song. I also won a copy of Shannon's sensational book, Laid: Young People's Experiences with Sex in an Easy-Access Culture (this is now my second copy -- yes, it's that good).

Photo by Kelvin Kay

        The theme of this poetry prompt is how food can be so deeply connected with memories. What meal or food do you associate with a particular memory or person?


Dorkmaster Flek said...

My grandmother on my dad's side, who died when I was like three or four, used to always be up at the crack of dawn. When we stayed with her while visiting my dad's family in Scranton (yes, that Scranton; I've been to Steamtown Mall many times), I would always be up early and she was always there to make me a buttered bun with honey on it. I can't eat that now without thinking of her. :)

Mary said...

Haha oh man, I find it funny how these days things are relatively the same... however we are 20, 23 and 25 and instead of presents we just want to consume as much wine as possible before church. Yeah I think most of my food memories surround grandparents. Whenever I have perogies anywhere, they never live up to grandma's. And my nana used to make meat pies, however no one I've tasted has ever lived up to hers... But yeah any turkey dinner reminds me of family. Especially Christmas with my cuzins ;)

Andrea said...

Quick post:
2) Can I borrow one of your copies? I'm intrigued...
3) ANDREW, you've been to Scranton?! I'm jealous! :(
4) Everytime I eat chicken fingers/nuggets, I think of high school lunches and how everyone always ate mine ;)

Deb said...

Great memories and lines, you've packed a lot in and I like every bit of a familiar, yet unique, ritual.

Derrick said...

Very enjoyable memory. This replicates many childhood Christmas Days, I'm sure. Sitting at a separate table and desperate for the boring 'stuff' to end! But we always got our presents at the crack of dawn before going to wake up Mom and Dad!

Linda said...

I enjoyed that you captured the boringness of parents enjoying their coffee break. Now that I am married with children, I have a whole new respect for the coffee! A poem with some lovely reflections. Thank you for sharing!=D

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully evoked details. The description of the meal and the tradition, the impatience of the children, that is ironic, because the wondrous happiness of such holidays, and of family, is gone too quickly from one's life as time passes.

Cynthia Short said...

I could never understand how parent's could be so mean to make the children wait to open gifts!
This was so very entertaining and the line about your father being the "family trash-compactor" had me laughing out loud!

Paul Oakley said...

Delightful! I especially love your parentheticals.

Very evocative and real.

Katie said...

I can't even remember how it felt to be so anxious to get at those gifts. It shocks me now to see children much too eager to rip them open. Now it's just fun to torture them and play the waiting game.

I wonder what our traditions will be some day when we have our own families.