Family Sausage Dressing

I rarely use a recipe. I cook by the memories of my ancestors. I know what a dish is supposed to taste like, and I know how to get there.

The stock. Last in, but first made. The fat, gelatin, skin, and bones of a take-home chicken from some too-tired-to-cook work night, thrown into the slow cooker with two bay leaves, a few onions, carrots, celery, salt, pepper, sage, and rosemary. White wine if there’s the bottom of a bottle hanging around. Some vinegar to pull the goodness from the bones. The acids lay down some dimension, and their forward taste takes a seat in the back of the room when everything’s said and done. Let that go for hours. When it’s time, pull out the solids with a colander, then freeze that gold until it’s called for. That’s how Mimi and Pipi would do it, too. Handy, since I make a Thanksgiving dressing with their ghosts as well.

Dressing is about diversity and abundance. Three loaves of bread. Sourdough. Darkest pumpernickel rye you can find. And a hearty loaf of wheat; extra seedy is good. Tear them all to bits the size milk bottle tops. Fill all your mixing bowls past what they can hold. Let the late autumn air suck the moisture out of them; or dry them out in the oven if you’re ready before they are. You don’t have to make croutons out of them, we’re just getting them thirsty for what’s to come.

In the biggest cast iron pan in the place, the one that handles Sunday mornings, drip a little oil in the bottom. When it’s warm enough to move like water, put in two pounds of Italian sausage. Bird sausage replaces pork sausage nearly unnoticeably. When it’s nearly browned all the way through, add those seven or so small onions chopped with the Red Pig knife from the  grandmother on another side of the family. It’s alright that they pile above the top of the pan. They’ll cook down. When they do, pile on the chopped celery. Two full hearts.

In another pan, melt a whole block of Irish butter. Mimi never did get to Ireland. I wish she had, but dying with a few unfulfilled dreams means having never lost the ability to dream. Two full heads of garlic, chopped coarse for slow continuous release. Rubbed Sage. Rosemary. So much it seems indecent. Life is about flavor. Pour the herbed butter over the meat, onions and celery. Let it simmer a bit. Wash a few dishes.

In the big pot used for canning, the only thing in the place—aside from the bathtub—that will hold the whole thing with room to stir, dump in the bread. Pour everything from the cast iron pan in. Stir with gusto enough to dredge the good stuff up from the bottom of the pot and the generations. When it’s good and mixed, with so many shades of white, brown, and gray, without accumulations of any one thing in any single place, take stock, and add the cohesion. Stir more, getting the stock into every morsel, relaxing it, giving it some semblance of oneness.

In big heaping scoops, transfer it into a huge aluminum roasting pan. Cover it in foil. Tomorrow, it’ll taste like West River Street in Deerfield Michigan.

Take and Give

She calls it,
An image held
As lip-gloss service
On a nation’s reputation
As one that melds
A metal more
Recently polished
Than when slavery
Was abolished,
Giving diction
To a fiction
That is tired—
Divinely inspired
Since first inception
As if enlightened,
Instead of frightened.
And we know that fear
Is as antithetical
To gratitude
As the longitude
And latitude
Of India, land of spice
Is to New England,
Land of Christ-pushing
Who were/are
merciless materialists
In dealings with the
Deck-stacking disingenuous.
Making it strenuous
To detect the respect implied
By the title of the feast
Given by the beasts who hide
The pilgrims’ pride, aka genocide
In plain sight, well-lit
With pan-generational gaslights
Giving thanks for all the blessings bestowed
Which is a load.
No grace was shed on thee.
When those who bled were free already,
Until the day when white-makes-right
Stormed the shores,
Shouting to the neighbors about discovery.
We won’t begin our recovery until
The bitter pill is swallowed
That our hallowed halls are hollowed
And the varnished thick veneer is tarnished
Every time we listen to tradition
Instead of honest admission
That the making of our living
Was consumptuous taking


A sneeze is inherently comical;
Nature’s practical joke.

Grandpa Matthias, my tri-sneeze ancestor.

I, like my
Grandfather before me
always sneeze in threes.

Loud, full-bodied things.
Sometimes my feet leave the ground.

Once, while in service to a beloved nun,
I sneezed only twice, held up my index finger and said
Let’s see if I’ve got anything for the Holy Spirit!
Her laugh fills my memories still.

A dear atheist friend would have nothing to do
With superstition or tradition only for tradition sake.
I’d issue the bless you response following the call of her sneeze—
A historic prayer for skipped heartbeats and the near-death sneeze experience—
She would not abide with a customary thank you, and met such nonsense with silence.
We renegotiated a more fitting ceremony.
She sneezes.
I reply, don’t die.
Everyone has a happy time of it.

Comfort Food

A day can go sideways.
Been on the task for a while,
And nothing is moving right,
The parts aren’t coming together right
And maybe today is just a day
In a long succession of days.

Though it doesn’t make everything better,
A sandwich
turkey, provolone, and guacamole
that she made—
despite not caring much for sandwiches—
eaten, wearing the day’s dust,
with only clean hands

the world gets bumped
a little more plumb.

Leaf and Limb

And so it is said that
the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
Some trees are fickle,
no good in a pot,
or on the back of a truck ready for transplant.
Why on earth anyone would think
that liberty might be factory farmable

rather than a breeze-borne seed
in search of a receptive patch
to grow in or die in,

is beyond
of art
or horticulture.

Put up a wall
and watch a seedpod show you
exactly how small your plan,
and your dragging feet
and coal-raking cruelty
did nothing
but till the soil bare and open

With the sanguine stain
of ripe fruit on fingertips, as if painted:
Still Life of Black Man/Black Woman With Bullet Holes
The berry seed lands in your open dirt.

A citizen is the heartwood of patriotism.
Not the warriors.
Nor the foreman.

Black and brown citizens been refreshing the tree for some time now.

The tree still has a thirst.



*Author’s note: I recognize the hollowness of Thomas Jefferson’s words as a slave owners carrying on about liberty. I hope that applying those words in service to addressing systemic racism and oppression adds credence to the words, not the speaker.

** Author’s other note: Because of the times that we live in, it seems necessary to say that I do not advocate for or condone violence. I believe in nonviolence. This is a work of poetry and the intent is poetic. The call for blood is a call for the tyrants and oppressors of our times to be held accountable to those whom harm has come through them. It must also be said, that history makes a case that those who are refused justice will eventually demand it with ever increasing force until they have it. The earlier justice is paid, the lighter the accrued interest.

***It is the taste of one which demands the taste of the other. Feed your trees with things less bitter.

****May the suffering in the world be lessened.

Liberation: the Effects of Parallax

All the horrors that one pulling breath may know in this life.
Such cataclysm. Such destruction. Such callous disregard.
A fair future is fairly uncertain.

As blind arcade of pillars
                                  of stratified civilization
                 collapse of their own weight
a brilliant-burning,
best-of-life glory unfolds in the days we see.

The arc of woman
is waxing
towards a fullness
like this planet has never seen.

Pull a breath.
Watch the horrors roll out with low tide.
Touch the scars in the wet sand.


To The Other Side of Suffering

History’s heroines and heroes
all took their turn at suffering.

The bitter, dangerous magic.
Too little, death obscura.
Too much… so many ways for too much to kill a person.

But for those who persevere the gauntlets,
The other side knows.
A person who knows can do a great many things.

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