To Fill Your Belly and Your Cup: Poems that Nourish
Playlist by Penelope Luksic 14 poems
Good poems, like good food, excite the senses and nourish the soul. From the dinner party to the picnic, food is at the center of work by Nikki Giovanni, Mark Strand, William Carlos Williams, and others. As part of your balanced diet, be fed and filled by these poems that celebrate eating, feasting, musing and consuming.
1. Da Capo
Jane Hirshfield
2. Eating Fried Chicken
Linh Dinh
3. The Vegetable Air
Cathy Song
4. At a Dinner Party
Amy Levy
5. To a Poor Old Woman
William Carlos Williams
6. With strawberries we filled a tray
William Ernest Henley
7. Man Eating
Jane Kenyon
8. I Wrote a Good Omelet
Nikki Giovanni
9. Potpourri
Lola Ridge
10. Picnic Boat
Carl Sandburg
11. Bleezer's Ice Cream
Jack Prelutsky
12. Excerpt from The Martyrology
bpNichol
13. Eating Poetry
Mark Strand
14. Fishmonger
Marsden Hartley
Take the used-up heart like a pebble
and throw it far out.

Soon there is nothing left.
Soon the last ripple exhausts itself
in the weeds.

Returning home, slice carrots, onions, celery.
Glaze them in oil before adding
the lentils, water, and herbs.

Then the roasted chestnuts, a little pepper, the salt.
Finish with goat cheese and parsley. Eat.

You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted.
Begin again the story of your life.
I hate to admit this, brother, but there are times
When I’m eating fried chicken
When I think about nothing else but eating fried chicken,
When I utterly forget about my family, honor and country,
The various blood debts you owe me,
My past humiliations and my future crimes—
Everything, in short, but the crispy skin on my fried chicken.

But I’m not altogether evil, there are also times
When I will refuse to lick or swallow anything
That’s not generally available to mankind.

(Which is, when you think about it, absolutely nothing at all.)

And no doubt that’s why apples can cause riots,
And meat brings humiliation,
And each gasp of air
Will fill one’s lungs with gun powder and smoke.
You’re clean shaven in this country
where trees grow beards of moss,
where even bank tellers
look a little like banditos
in vests as pungent as sweatsuits.
Still, you prefer the vegetable air
to almost any other place on the map.
After the heart attack,
you considered Paris—
the flying buttresses,
the fractured light of its cathedrals;
the entire city refined and otherworldly,
ascending on its architectural wings—
but decided you had no use for glory,
boulevards fur-lined
with statues and expensive trees.

You admit, on the whole,
the towns in this country are ugly.
One summer you drove toward Nicoya
(a beautiful name that became your destination),
expecting a fragrant town of mango trees
but found cattle grazing in the plaza,
rattling the tin plates
in the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant.
A Coca-Cola sign hung weathered and askew.
That’s perhaps why you like it,
it’s a country you can’t count on,
a country of misfits.
Unable to take root in the mud,
the twentieth century has failed miserably,
creating neither factory nor industry
but a thirst for soda pop;
like cosmetic surgery,
it is skin deep.
The clock is stuck in the rain
and the mud of four o’clock.
There’s nothing to do but wait as if
in a dry cave, a room with a view of the waterfall,
pinned as you are beneath the downpour.
The waiter bends over your cup
without filling it,
the storekeeper holds your change
until the rain, hypnotic and dramatic,
leaves the streets and the gutters,
the balcony and the air greener, heavier—
mildew blooming in the closet where your shoes,
powdered with a sea-green lichen,
resembles old bronze,
a pair of ancient goblets.

While iguanas lounge in the attic
(a prehistoric version of the domestic rat),
the Office of the Ministry
(a pink and crumbling building
surrounded by dusty rose trees)
prints more money to prop
the flimsy flowered currency.
You can’t predict what your American
dollars will bring by morning.
In the hotel restaurant
you meet the Undesirable American.
He learns just enough of the local lingo
to swing by, living on a dwindling account
and, here and there, a real estate swindle.
Or the pensionado who buys two cigars,
offering you one the day
his Social Security arrives.
Like the cockroach, the displaced
have crawled through the cracks
and selected for themselves
an agreeable niche.
A place to start from scratch.
They thrive in the vegetable air.
You wonder how you’ll survive,
unfit, unable to work.
Lacking the predatory skills,
you’ve stayed in the trees,
a dreamer, all your life,
even now wanting to believe
a change of scenery
will get you back on your feet.
A brief hiatus in the vegetable air.

Tonight, you walk along the damp streets,
an average steak, a glass of wine
swishing in your belly,
to your small room wedged between
a jukebox and a dance hall.
There are so many things you can’t change—
like the dull thrashing music.
You draw the blinds, switch on the tiny cassette.
Silence. The click of the tape.
And then the familiar aria,
rising like the moon,
lifts you out of yourself,
transporting you to another country
where, for a moment, you travel light.
"The Vegetable Air" from Frameless Windows, Squares of Light. Copyright © 1988 by Cathy Song.
With fruit and flowers the board is decked,
    The wine and laughter flow;
I'll not complain—could one expect
    So dull a world to know?

You look across the fruit and flowers,
    My glance your glances find.—
It is our secret, only ours,
    Since all the world is blind.
munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

Comforted
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her
With strawberries we filled a tray,
And then we drove away, away
Along the links beside the sea,
Where wave and wind were light and free,
And August felt as fresh as May.
And where the springy turf was gay
With thyme and balm and many a spray
Of wild roses, you tempted me
With strawberries.
A shadowy sail, silent and gray,
Stole like a ghost across the bay;
But none could hear me ask my fee,
And none could know what came to be.
Can sweethearts all their thirst allay
With strawberries?
The man at the table across from mine
is eating yogurt. His eyes, following
the progress of the spoon, cross briefly
each time it nears his face. Time,
and the world with all its principalities,
might come to an end as prophesied
by the Apostle John, but what about
this man, so completely present
to the little carton with its cool,
sweet food, which has caused no animal
to suffer, and which he is eating
with a pearl-white plastic spoon.
From "Collected Poems". Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Reprinted with permission granted by Graywolf Press, graywolfpress.org.
I wrote a good omelet... and ate
a hot poem... after loving you

Buttoned my car... and drove my
coat home... in the rain...
after loving you

I goed on red... and stopped on
green... floating somewhere in between...
being here and being there...
after loving you

I rolled my bed... turned down
my hair... slightly
confused but... I don't care...

Laid out my teeth... and gargled my
gown... then I stood
...and laid me down...
To sleep...
after loving you
Do you remember
Honey-melon moon
Dripping thick sweet light
Where Canal Street saunters off by herself among quiet trees?
And the faint decayed patchouli -
Fragrance of New Orleans
Like a dead tube rose
Upheld in the warm air...
Miraculously whole.
Sunday night and the park policemen tell each other it is dark as a stack of black cats on Lake Michigan.
A big picnic boat comes home to Chicago from the peach farms of Saugatuck.
Hundreds of electric bulbs break the night’s darkness, a flock of red and yellow birds with wings at a standstill.
Running along the deck railings are festoons and leaping in curves are loops of light from prow and stern to the tall smokestacks.
Over the hoarse crunch of waves at my pier comes a hoarse answer in the rhythmic oompa of the brasses playing a Polish folk-song for the home-comers.
I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
I run BLEEZER’S ICE CREAM STORE,
there are flavors in my freezer
you have never seen before,
twenty-eight divine creations
too delicious to resist,
why not do yourself a favor,
try the flavors on my list:

COCOA MOCHA MACARONI
TAPIOCA SMOKED BALONEY
CHECKERBERRY CHEDDAR CHEW
CHICKEN CHERRY HONEYDEW
TUTTI-FRUTTI STEWED TOMATO
TUNA TACO BAKED POTATO
LOBSTER LITCHI LIMA BEAN
MOZZARELLA MANGOSTEEN
ALMOND HAM MERINGUE SALAMI
YAM ANCHOVY PRUNE PASTRAMI
SASSAFRAS SOUVLAKI HASH
SUKIYAKI SUCCOTASH
BUTTER BRICKLE PEPPER PICKLE
POMEGRANATE PUMPERNICKEL
PEACH PIMENTO PIZZA PLUM
PEANUT PUMPKIN BUBBLEGUM
BROCCOLI BANANA BLUSTER
CHOCOLATE CHOP SUEY CLUSTER
AVOCADO BRUSSELS SPROUT
PERIWINKLE SAUERKRAUT
COTTON CANDY CARROT CUSTARD
CAULIFLOWER COLA MUSTARD
ONION DUMPLING DOUBLE DIP
TURNIP TRUFFLE TRIPLE FLIP
GARLIC GUMBO GRAVY GUAVA
LENTIL LEMON LIVER LAVA
ORANGE OLIVE BAGEL BEET
WATERMELON WAFFLE WHEAT

I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
I run BLEEZER’S ICE CREAM STORE,
taste a flavor from my freezer,
you will surely ask for more.
carrots onions celery potatoes
cheddar cheese
beef For stock
salt pepper garlic

windy day
keep the door open
kitchen cool

core & steam the cabbages
peel the leaves
rice & vegetables for the hollopchis

sit around the table
talk of nothing
good feeling for the job that's done

walk the fields the wind blows
blue sky above you always
pray that will be so
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
I have taken scales from off
The cheeks of the moon.
I have made fins from bluejays’ wings,
I have made eyes from damsons in the shadow.
I have taken flushes from the peachlips in the sun.
From all these I have made a fish of heaven for you,
Set it swimming on a young October sky.
I sit on the bank of the stream and watch
The grasses in amazement
As they turn to ashy gold.
Are the fishes from the rainbow
Still beautiful to you,
For whom they are made,
For whom I have set them,
Swimming?