If you read our December 2013 issue of Gravy (#50: Winter Reading), you noticed the special poetry section, curated by guest poetry editor Blair Hobbs. Hobbs introduced us to Sandra Beasley, who shared five beautiful poems with Gravy, on topics ranging from possum to pinto beans. Two of these poems, “Heirloom” and “Prohibition Toast,” appear below, introduced by the poet.
On “Heirloom”—In 2014, many of us still have memories of being cooked for by someone who experienced the Depression firsthand. There’s something to be said for the desire to fill someone’s belly, to warm them for a night’s sleep. No matter how mundane the results.
by Sandra Beasley
My father will never enjoy
the heavy, sunrise sweetness
of a golden tomato dashed with oil,
layered in basil. As with spinach,
as with olives, he tastes only
of salt his Texan mother
unleashed from a can
a half-century ago, feeding
four children on a budget.
We talk little of this:
the foods our parents
cook to mush, pepper to ash,
flavors forever rendered to chore;
that this too was a form of love.
What I remember is how,
during a snowstorm that stranded
our schoolbus, I hiked
to my grandmother’s instead.
And she made me not
chicken soup from scratch,
or a braise of bacon and cabbage,
but rather a tray of tater-tots
straight from freezer to oven.
They goldened like July.
We ate them with our fingers
while we played Scrabble, waiting
until it was safe to take me home.
On “Prohibition Toast”—Two of my favorite bars are 630 miles apart: the Blind Pig, in Oxford, Mississippi, and the Blind Tiger in Charleston, South Carolina. Their echoing names inspired me to read up on my Prohibition history. Speakeasies often worked by charging at the door to see an animal, exotic or barnyard; the home-stilled libation they put in your hand was, of course, the true motive for the visit.
by Sandra Beasley
You charge a buck to see the blind tiger;
I’ll pay a quarter to see the blind pig.
Here’s to the laws shimmied up and over—
Here’s to the hosts who match swig for swig—
Gin at the door is served complimentary;
two more, we’ll be complimenting the gin.
Give me an address where no cops can find us.
Call me a rover, and pour us again.
Sandra Beasley is the author of I Was the Jukebox, winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Theories of Falling, winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize; her third collection, Count the Waves, is forthcoming from W. W. Norton in 2015. Honors for her work include the Center for Book Arts Chapbook Prize, Cornell College’s Distinguished Writer fellowship, Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Writer in Residence position, the University of Mississippi Summer Poet in Residence position, and two DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Artist Fellowships. Her memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, doubles as a cultural history of food allergy, and her nonfiction has appeared in The Oxford American, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. For more information, visit www.SandraBeasley.com or follow her on Twitter @SandraBeasley.