“White Pepper Ice Cream” in One Art

My poem, “White Pepper Ice Cream” appears today in One Art: A Journal of Poetry. Reprinted below:

White Pepper Ice Cream

We are an odd combination:
not just opposites like hot and cold,
but fully different
like cayenne and cream.

What makes us so good
when we churn into one unthinkable mess
to become a confection for only the brave?

You warn me to take small bites,
taste it a spoon at a time.
I have never eaten dessert like that.
I will eat until I can eat no more,
my tongue numb with spice,
my teeth aching cold.

Three New Poems out in Rat’s Ass Review

So thrilled to have three new poems out in Rat’s Ass Review, Winter 2020. Reprinted below:

MOTHERLESS
 
Some years, I have left the calendar
on July–a perpetual 31st–
not wanting to see the month of August come.
 
Usually, we mark the day
only with a call or text–
we two who loved her most:
only daughter; late life love,
though in the end,
you loved her most fully,
escorted her
down that dark path
as far as you could go.
 
No matter if I turn the page or not,
the day will come–eyes open
then squeezing shut.
Let it be tomorrow
when I am just the motherless daughter
and not the one who is losing her again.
 
This thirteenth year
I will gather my children
set a beautiful table
use her wedding china
her mother’s crystal.
I will fill vases–
daisies, yellow roses–
I will serve shrimp cocktail,
put ice cubes in wine.
We will end with cookies stuffed with chocolate chips,
butter pecan straight from the box.
We’ll lay out photo albums built
one paper corner at a time,
spread Broadway playbills
over the tablecloth she embroidered,
alternate singing showtunes and hymns.
 
When dark settles,
we will take off our shoes,
process into the yard
cool grass between our toes.
One by one,
we’ll step into the garden
sifting rich black dirt
between our fingers
breathe in the tomatoes,
newly pruned.
Let the fireflies whirl–
usher out this day.
 
 
THE BRIDE PRICE
 
Here, at my kitchen table,
at the dawn of the twenty-first century,
we discuss her bride price.
 
Lucky, she has traveled
these 7,777 miles
across an ocean
across continents
carrying nothing
but a suitcase
and her will to thrive.
 
She strode over my threshold,
assessed my children
lined up before her,
looked me over, adopted us.
From then on, we were hers.
 
Now, after years of considering,
she has decided to open this door again
allow a quiet, careful man
into the space she had bricked over
when the last one in proved violent.
 
We are considering the question
posed by the families,
ridiculous to all of us–
to him, to her, to me:
How many cows is she worth?
 
A tradition yes–but the families
back home in Botswana, in Lesotho,
would consider only
how beautiful she is
how pure her body
how likely to bear children
how skilled at keeping house.
 
Where are the cows
for the way she got up
after a man bloodied her face, her body,
and searched the wide world
for the fastest way
to a visa, a paying job,
putting thousands of miles between them?
 
Where are the cows
for the nights spent studying
late into the night,
the heavy courseload carried
after carrying two toddlers
through their small lives
all day?
 
Where are the cows
for the force of her love,
encircling this broken child
making him whole
in a broken world?
 
I know it’s tradition–
that you will pay the price together
to appease her uncles
to help his mother save face.
The fact is, though,
he can’t afford you.
 
Set the price so high
the only one who can pay
is you.
It is time to fill
your own field with cows.
Dress yourself in silk and gold
and claim what was always yours.
 
 
KNEADING
 
Standing in the dark kitchen,
woman of a dozen lists,
I try not to kill the yeast.
 
Turning flour in the bowl,
I know I ought to love this
digging in of hands, rhythmic churning.
 
My lists fill space left empty by the recipe
what must be done by day’s end, week’s end, month’s end.
Shoulder muscles tighten. I throw the yeasty dough at faster pace.
 
Now, stretch the loaf,
pull beneath heels of hands.
The lists dissolve in texture.
 
My great grandmother here in the empty kitchen,
body smeared with flour, sweat, her children’s handprints,
laundry soap and garden soil.
 
She kneads the dough for Samuel
who called himself her father only til her wedding day.
She folds it on itself for Robert,
Irish husband whose hatred locked him
in an upper bedroom, the cyclops eye of the house.
She stretches the loaf for her children–
for sons who might become someone,
daughters who might marry well.
 
Dough folded, left to rise,
she checks her list of orders.
Thank God for lazy women
who will keep her making bread
so she can feed her children.
 
The bread is more than kneaded now
the lists await a moment up ahead,
but for now there is the rising
of the dough, the sun, my family.
I hold my hands up to my face,
breathe in the yeast and flour
for one last moment.