Detail from the cover of Sacrilegion by L. Lamar Wilson (Carolina Wren Press, 2013). Photo © 2013 Rachel Eliza Griffiths

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How to Make a Tea Cake
~for Annie Pearl Long, Glenis Redmond, & so many

Sweep the hate the day gave you out the door first,
Then let Dawn-dewed hands spoon into a warm pan

Enough butter & shortening to thicken the flour
That always does the trick. Think of all the children

Whose laughter soon will fill the empty spaces he &
he & she left, how sweet their unhinged bliss. Taste

& seethe browned sugar & an egg you’ve whisked,
See how they dimple the dough—not unlike

The dimples the sight of such simple wonder incites
in your own kissed mien—how vanilla, lemon,

Buttermilk & baking soda take the heat off
The salt & nutmeg. Feel the leavening happen

As your pointer presses pecans inside, kept whole
Because this bread can hold them. They’ll hide

In plain sight like a lover’s gaze. Kneading
The dough, etch a scroll into the pulp at the center,

&, without anyone spying, lift pink heels, just so,
As the stove door seals the deals you’ve made

With the Ones with So Many Names to fix it
Like they promised. Now watch this meal

The day beat into bland & panned, rise, settle
& quicken from its sarcophagus, vamp the hiss-

Moan you hum until your pièce de résistance perfumes
The entire room, until ah, you know it’s ready

To come out, join you, seated atop the range, its heat
Rousing your undulating waist, your bottom

Lip aquiver, whetted. Take all the time you need here. Part
The layers you smooth with tips of fingers wet with ginger,

Slick with salt. Then, slip a sliver into your own mouth.
Savor your hand-made savior. I think of you now,

Feasting then as if you knew we—your brothers
& sisters, your children becoming others’

Lovers, fathers, & mothers each day, coming &
Going so fast we could not see you fighting this hunger

Eating away inside every day—would always need
So much, always take what you give so freely

To yourself when we aren’t looking. O how does a man
Born of a woman know so little of how joy tastes!


Ghazal of the Naptime Blues

Every day after school, I savored my grandmother’s fatback;
hints of Karo & margarine in the mix to pull the collards’ bite back.

Tudda, MaMary’s sister, finished supper with a can of beets:
May-ree, you sho’ put yo’ foot in dem greens, gurl, she’d pipe back.

Each idled to her chamber of secrets fading, stroked jet black wig,
freed sterling plaits, cleared talcum as freckles brought a schoolgirl spice back.

I tiptoed to spy this transformation, widow to ingénue, as one, then
the other, shut her eyes, rocked slowly, calling juke joint sights back.

MaMary took the bass line, Tudda alto’s echo & I the tenor notes;
How My mama done tol’ me when I was in pigtails comes right back

& I, your charge, long to lie at your feet, caress calico shag rugs,
hum naptime lullabies. Bring the blues in the night back!


To the Green Polka Dot Muumuu My Mother Loved to See Her Mother Wear

May you have cooled her while she dashed about
a too-hot kitchen full of children & long-gone children’s children

May you have hugged her close, dodging that
no-good too-sweet have-mercy-fine drunk of a man

waiting at the head of their table, who made her a home
with his hands, gave her these children &

took in those he did not give, the youngest,
prettiest, not his own blood but his, all his,

this stoic & stately girl you filled
with gutstillness, how you rocked her

when the grandchild you
never knew lay shivering, helpless

May you know when this baby girl escaped
her baby boy’s gasping to do what she could,

she found you, your musty, stew-caked,
bloody self, waiting, across the years

May you cherish the exultations you heard
& felt when you did all the mothering her dust

in some lonely overgrown plot could not
when you resurrected her & we all rejoiced



Note: “Ghazal of the Naptime Blues” and “To the Green Polka Dot Muumuu My Mother Loved to See Her Mother Wear” previously appeared in the author’s poetry collection Sacrilegion (Carolina Wren Press, 2013).