Tuesday, 31 January 2023

American Life in Poetry: Why Do We Set the Table?

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

This an elegant elegy to a father who has passed, captured in the rituals that families create as a way to remember, to honor and to even celebrate.

The extra place set at table before a feast of great sensual and emotional power reflects how mourning touches the deepest parts of our self.

NaBeela Washington’s poem asks the question: “Why Do We Set the Table?”

The poem is the answer.

Why Do We Set the Table?
By NaBeela Washington

At what temperature does blood
begin to boil? Thicken into a
roux, slip between bits of
basil, minced garlic,
orecchiette;

Permeate chunks of spicy kielbasa,
bind a dash of salt, pepper, bubbles
roiling forth, then dissipating,
heat lowered to a hush;

Congeal from the shock of cool
clay dishes as a small mound
is delicately plated with a
large plastic spoon;

Spurt steam, burning both
nostrils, as we lean in to say
grace, my father’s seat empty,
placemat bare.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2022 by NaBeela Washington, “Why Do We Set the Table?” from crazyhorse, Number 101, Spring 2022. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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