Producing Poetry in Columbia City

Rhythmic odes -- live! -- to onions, tomatoes, and Washington's farmers.

Farming is tough. To raise the potatoes we mash for dinner and the tomatoes which fill our summer sandwiches, growers are forced to battle banks, fight off pesky herds of deer, and figure out what to do when it doesn't rain for five weeks straight.

Wanting to honor our local farmers' Herculean efforts, we turned to folks who've taken on a similarly daunting task. Local poets who bravely wrestle with metaphors, meter, and sometimes rhyme generously responded to our call for poems about Pacific Northwest produce. All summer long, Seattle Weekly's food blog, Voracious (seattleweekly.com/voracious), has run poems celebrating what's newly ripe at area farmers markets. (The Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance chipped in recipes, which you'll find online.)

On Wednesday, August 29, we'll celebrate our "Producing Poetry" series with a reading at the Columbia City Farmers Market, 3698 S. Edmunds St., featuring seven contributors. The event runs from 5:30–6:30 p.m., and is open to the public. Here's a taste of what you'll hear, along with each poem's corresponding fruit or veggie:

GREENS

Field Greens by Ann Spiers

The field greens,

encased in plastic, vacuum packed,

each leaf pre-washed, debugged,

cost me six dollars,

price of two lattes, skinny, extra hot.

Why am I buying this?

I own an acre, and rain falls on me too.

My push mower cuts through

sun-dappled green, its dandelions,

free salad, each leaf worth ten cents.

My ditch is full of water,

still running with winter flow.

Tat soi and watercress

emerge like a thousand bitter angels.

From the wood's confused edge:

sorrel, miners' lettuce, lambs quarters.

Everywhere, mint bullies wild mustard;

oregano self seeds among mystery grass.

But here at the farmer's stall

my hunger is sharp,

the greens so prepared

to be slicked with oil and vinegar.

The work is done;

I hand her my money, crisp from the ATM.

She gives me back four dollars,

wet, handled, also green.

Spiers is Vashon Island's poet laureate. Her son, Wiley Frank, runs Little Uncle with his wife, PK.

 

ONIONS

Peel by Georgia Johnson

She's all . . .

shoulders.

Soft, almost

genteel in her paper-thin chemise.

With her, ripe is defined by heat,

by heft in the hand,

not so much perfume or

the give of flesh. 

But oh, her scent

once the chemise is stripped

once those straps have fallen

it's no secret she can make a grown man cry. 

Once bitten there's no stopping her,

you've got to go all the way with her,

as layer by layer drops away you find it's all

in the curve and swell of her tight wound heart.

The bitter then sweet of her sizzle

gives tongue full range of pleasure. 

Cousins on all continents,

these broads command respect from

Morocco to Myanmar, from Paris to São Paulo,

stars in their own right like the great

Walla Walla,

sweet Southern Vidalia,

the Oignon doux des Cévennes,

that red-headed hot Bermuda,

the child-like Cipolla Rossa di Tropea.

Johnson is a culinary-arts teacher and Food Services Manager for the La Conner School District.

 

TOMATOES

by Michael Dylan Welch

a broken bamboo cane—

ripe tomatoes

grow along the ground

Welch is vice president of the Haiku Society of America.

 

CUCUMBERS

What Bitterness? by Molly Tenenbaum

Never made sense what they said—

to cut off one end and rub it

with salt on the rest 

or to salt and let stand

rinse and dry 

when before any method or recipe

my mother sliced them in salad

and we all lingered

in the litter of dinner

fingers allowed

to slide the remaining

vinegar salt pepper circles from the bowl

dropping them slippery tart to our mouths

although I will add 

they've been used in art for example

at the museum café

refreshing the water

visually at first in the dispenser

with floating translucent circles

the greens in concentric colors more luminous

the more toward the seeds in the center 

and then as fragrance in the glass invisibly

and as one more example my friends

whose two doors take two keys

code them

dark green for the outer

pale green for the inner

"like a cucumber" they remind me

dropping a set in my hands and telling me

to make myself at home

In addition to authoring three books of poetry, Tenenbaum plays Appalachian fiddle and banjo.

 

MARIONBERRIES

For her produce poems, Kate Lebo erased selected words from the featured fruits and vegetables' Wikipedia entries. The original erasures are posted at seattleweekly.com.

Marionberry

For the former mayor, breeding is a cross

between a large spine and a deep thaw.

The more powerful ice over the mar. Berry

was released under the name Marion

after the county adapted to the hurt.

Most legislators have agreed not

to press the issue.

Lebo is a pie-baker and a 2012 graduate of the University of Washington's MFA program.

 

BEETS

The heart of the beet is black by Marjorie Rommel

Each fall in the Skagit where roadside farms

form oases among flat brown fields that stretch 

to the horizon, beets come out of the winter ground

bedraggled as bag ladies gone to moss, goblin faces 

suffused with wine. Dark knobs piled in mountains

on rich soil intricately tire-patterned out onto wet 

roads. Where rain washes the dirt away, they glow

like hot coals, like the red spot on Jupiter. Choose 

one. Weigh it in your hand, test it for volume &

density—this is the vault where Earth keeps her 

dark secrets. Cut top to bottom & held up to light

a slice reveals rich-stained windows, flying 

buttresses, a bloody aurora. The beet is no

valentine. Its heart is so red it is almost black.

Rommel is a member of the Auburn Striped Water Poets.

 

MUSHROOMS

Fungi by Clark Crouch

These woodlands know the step

of those who've gone before,

the natives of this place

who've shared their tribal lore. 

We now walk where they walked

to harvest mushrooms there,

treading on the greensward

for our new bill-of-fare.

Where here in forest shade,

the mushrooms hide away

waiting for the hunter

to come along this way. 

It's here the fungus grows

beneath primeval trees,

white caps tipped in greeting

with scent on gentle breeze. 

Their names we scarce pronounce,

long Latin-sounding things,

but offering themselves,

as food which nature brings. 

We harvest now the fruits,

the fungi of these lands,

to grace our daily meals,

to satisfy gourmands. 

Ambrosia, food of Gods,

with clean and earthy scent

as flavors kiss the tongue

in moments of content.

Crouch, who lives in Woodinville, identifies himself as a "poet lariat."

hraskin@seattleweekly.com

 
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