I like the poem I'm sharing today because I can imagine the scene it portrays so clearly. It's a family moment, like so many others, but there's more to it because of one line: "They don't know this is the last time." We, the readers, sense a significance to the ordinary family dinner that is completely unknown to the children. We know what comes next.
We set up an assembly line.
I heat the tortillas in manteca
after Crystal dips them in chile ancho
and drains them. Niles carries full plates
of hot tortillas to his father,
who rolls them around spoonfuls of filling.
When we’ve finished the hot, greasy work,
I pour the last of the sauce over neat rows
of stuffed tortillas, sprinkle them with cheese,
clean the stove and counters.
The kids help their father rinse plates and pans.
They don’t know this is the last time.
You can read the rest of the poem here
I've written many poems that this one reminds me of, poems that are basically a recounting of the details of a family moment, but as I looked through them, they all seemed too intimate to share here. I name everyone (as Linda Rodriguez does in this poem), for one thing. (I don't know if these are really Linda Rodriguez's children's names or if this is a fictional story.) They are some of my favorite poems to write and reread because they bring back moments better than a photo. A photo just gives you how things looked; a poem also includes how things sounded and smelled and how I felt about it all.
Even though I eventually chose not to share any of those poems, I did find one about a family story. My children aren't in it because they weren't born yet.
Our first week back from Haiti in 1994
We were driving down US 68
In a borrowed car,
A hulking American-made one from the seventies.
We crested a hill lined with white fences
And there was a cow in the middle of the road.
It stared at us impassively.
We hit it and it toppled over
In slow motion
And then got up again
Only to be hit by the next car
And this time it stayed down.
As we drove on to find a phone
We thought of Haiti.
Hit an animal there
And angry people would appear
Maybe even throwing rocks at your car.
Pigs, goats, chickens wander the road
But suddenly valuable
In the event of their death.
How much, we wondered,
For a grain-fed American cow?
We called the police
And then returned to the scene of our crime
And watched, amazed, as justice took its course.
A policeman filled out a report
On the car behind ours, which was totaled.
Farm workers looked methodically
For the hole in the fence.
The farmer came over
And apologized to us.
Apologized to us?
We stared at him in disbelief,
But he was already off,
Making arrangements to butcher the dead beast.
This was over, and we were free to leave,
Bovine murderers that we were,
Scot-free, without even a dent in our borrowed car.
We drove away, feeling faintly guilty
And confused by the way things work.
Who's to blame? Who's innocent?
What's the value of a fat animal
Standing on a smooth American road at twilight
Compared with a scrawny one
On a dirt road in Haiti?
Why did the phone work the first time
And the police come right away?
Why did no money change hands?
And what was to become of a ton of beef?
Good thing America has big freezers
And plenty of electricity.
Ruth, from thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com
Today's line for the Progressive Poem is here.