Four pieces about fathers and food, by Ruth Holzer, Greg Moglia, Shirley J. Brewer and Roy Cheng Tsung.
Fathers Day is coming up. And for a lot of families, that means cooking out. I couldn’t find any stories or poems about cooking out, but I did find a couple about fathers and food.
Ruth Holzer said that this first poem was based on one of her father’s childhood recollections. She said, “I like to put these old narratives into poems in order to preserve some of the flavor of a world that has pretty much disappeared.”
Here’s Ruth Holzer’s poem “His Fish.”
Monday, his mother would select
a white, unblemished carp
fresh from the market
and carry it home in a pail.
All week it swam around
in the claw-foot bathtub.
My father treated it like the pet
he never had, fed it crumbs
and stroked its curious head,
tickled its fins, whispered to it.
On Friday, it went under the knife,
and with onions and potatoes,
became the family supper.
Its flesh was so alive, he said,
it would quiver on his plate.
Such an imagination he had.
“His Fish” by Ruth Holzer from Passager Issue 70.
Greg Moglia said that his poem “Cheeseburger And Fries” was inspired by a trip with his brother and his wheelchair-bound father down a major highway to McDonalds. He said, “It left me with a scary joy when it ended, as did the poem.”
Dad in a wheelchair at the nursing home
Brother and I with a ‘why not’ the food’s lousy
Get him to McDonald’s down the highway
Take turns pushing him to a cheeseburger and fries
Dad’s a hefty guy but we say no big deal and off we go
Here’s the main road but no sidewalk, a narrow shoulder
Let’s do it anyway and me first . . . whoosh
Then whoosh . . . whoosh . . . Dad says Kinda close
I think Dad’s kinda scared and so am I . . . whoosh
Now comes the first hill and Your turn brother
He starts to push when a trailer . . . whoosh
And Dad’s hat flies off into the fast lane
I look left . . . right – I dash out
and Dad’s head is warm again
Brother trades with me over a second hill
We’re too old for this . . .
Where the hell are those goddamn arches?
Finally at hilltop five . . . yes
And Dad gets his burger . . . gobbles it down
His mouth and chin a ketchup mess
Good huh? Yeah and those four hills back
Somehow faster, somehow easier, somehow
a tiny payback for the years of his postal worker days
With every penny held tight, every ache held small
Like the Depression — even the toilet paper wrapper put to use
In these last days it’s all about get Dad
to the next meal, the next hour, the next breath
We don’t care if it’s a pain the ass
“Cheeseburger and Fries” by Greg Moglia from Passager Issue 64.
Here’s a poem by Shirley Brewer from her book A Little Breast Music, “Between Trains.”
My father drove us into the country to watch trains
on Sunday afternoons in summer, the sun a golden gum ball.
We heard a series of whistles startle the air, felt vibrations in our young bones.
Even though it made us dizzy, we counted cars:
my brother’s singsong, my sister’s one, f-f-f-our, s-s-six, my fingers moving like castanets
— the caboose a red blaze. We waved at the engineers
until sunburned arms grew sore in their sockets, our voices a trickle, throats
soothed by cokes and crackers thick with cream cheese.
Between trains, my father made up tunes he played on a silver harmonica that dazzled in the
light. Beneath the breeze-filled trees, he closed his eyes and cradled his songs. I can see his
skinny legs — around his ankles loose brown socks, like bird nests fallen from a branch.
“Between Trains” by Shirley Brewer from her book A Little Breast Music.
Finally, this from Roy Cheng Tsung, an excerpt from his book Ox Horn Bend.
My father rarely talked about his childhood. So it was a treat the day he took me kite flying and told me about kite competitions with his brothers in Old Beijing. (He was always the winner.) I still remember the blue kite with its thin blue paper and light wooden ribs, and the balls of string that came in the assembly kit. It was an unusually cool afternoon with a good breeze when we launched it in our backyard. The kite soared into the cloudless atmosphere. I was on my third ball of yarn when I heard an aircraft approaching and quickly lowered my kite. “It might hit the plane,” I explained. When the plane glided past us just as my kite ducked, I was elated and felt the warmth of my father’s smile.
An excerpt from Ox Horn Bend by Roy Cheng Tsung.
To buy Ox Horn Bend or A Little Breast Music or either of the Passager issues featured in this episode, or to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com. You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.
Shirley’s birthday was this month, by the way. If you run into her, wish her a happy birthday!
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.