Two poems by poets Ruth Mota (2018 Passager Poetry Contest) and Leatha Kendrick (2017 Passager Poetry Contest).
Welcome to Burning Bright, a weekly podcast presenting poetry and prose from Passager.
Passager recently published its 2020 Poetry Contest issue. Next week, we’ll be reading a couple pieces by the winner of this year’s contest. This week, though, two poems by finalists from past poetry contests.
Ruth Mota said she was overcome by the passion of poetry when a Spanish woman in her English class at Oberlin College read aloud from Garcia Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre.
Here’s Ruth Mota’s poem “Women Cooking Chicken.”
How unlike the chicken of my youth these skinless thighs and breasts
severed and tightly wrapped in cellophane, labeled organic and cage-free.
Spared the sight of blood and scent of ripened flesh,
I need nothing but a quick hot-wash to plop my pullet in the pan.
At thirteen, my first chicken came without a pedigree,
blanketed in plain pink paper from Ducca’s Butcher Shop,
I stood confronted by a whole chicken, except for head and feet
and the pulled feathers that left her skin erupting just like mine.
I laid her naked on her back across the cutting board,
shoved my hand through the viscous hole between her legs
to retrieve her heart, her twisted neck, whatever giblets were.
My mother put me to this task without instruction,
so my blade landed dull false cuts before I clipped her joints,
divided up the body parts I dusted and dunked in sizzling oil.
So many millions of women in the world
have washed the fetid fat of chicken from their fingers.
I once saw a sugar-cane farmer’s wife on a plantation in Brazil
chase a chicken with her machete, slit its throat.
She wrapped her own legs, ribboned with purple veins,
around a bucket of scalding water to pluck its feathers.
That tough old hen who pecked for scratch
will never sizzle in a frying pan, but boil for hours
to flavor soup to feed a dozen children,
beak and claws afloat, yesterday’s bread sopping up her juice.
As I lay my platter down now upon my table, and watch
my daughters’ greasy fingers fiddle with crispy thighs and breasts,
I wonder how, when they are women, they will relate to chickens?
Will they find it too grotesque to touch such flesh, let alone consume it?
Or will a uniformed woman wrapping in a factory
make their slaughtered poultry palatable?
“Women Cooking Chicken” by Ruth Mota, from Passager’s 2018 contest issue.
Ruth said, “Although I never killed a chicken until I was in the Peace Corps in Brazil, as a child I knew our butcher and confronted a slaughtered chicken in a more conscious, visceral way.” Ruth lives near Santa Cruz, CA.
Leatha Kendrick grew up on a farm in southern Kentucky and now lives in Lexington. She said that when she wasn’t reading a book on the window seat and looking out at the horizon, she was most at home in fields or barns.
Here’s her poem “The Absentee Nana Fixes Her Solitary Lunch.”
It has to be all of them—not just the oranges
though these are the sweetest ones in years
and not only the apple, though yesterday the apple
was plenty. No. Today it is everything
cut up. Everything! Juicing the counter
and my arms, leaving a trail of peels and cores.
Grapefruit, blueberry, apple, the core-less
(not to be thought careless) banana,
and the too sweet to be believed
orange—bright orange cells, swelled
and tear-shaped, make me miss
everyone I love, miss fixing lunches
for someone other than myself. Blue,
red, banana ivory, grapefruit purple-pink.
I know how to get them—not the fruits,
the long gone daughters in their busy lives,
the grandchildren for whom my cooking
must be an acquired taste. Bright salad
in a clear glass bowl and homemade,
reheated chicken soup, thick with rice
and spinach. Which of the little ones
is it that hates greens? The closest
daughter’s three hundred miles away
—too far for a photo-text to tempt—
and “Miss you so much. Mom” might
induce guilt. I hit delete
and eat it all myself.
“The Absentee Nana Fixes Her Solitary Lunch” by Leatha Kendrick, from Passager’s 2017 Poetry Contest issue.
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I said earlier that Passager recently released its 2020 Poetry Contest issue. Several poets from that issue will be part of an online reading Sunday, November eighth at 2:00 eastern time. For more information about how to attend that reading, go to passagerbooks.com, and click on “events” at the top of the page.
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For Kendra, Mary, Christine, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.