by Michael R. Burch
(dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Paul Ray Burch, Sr.)
I remember how my grandfather used to pick poke salat ...
though first, usually, he’d stretch back in the front porch swing,
dangling his long thin legs, watching the sweat bees drone,
talking about poke salat—
how easy it was to find if you knew where to seek it ...
standing in dew-damp clumps by the side of a road, shockingly green,
straddling fence posts, overflowing small ditches,
crowding out the less-hardy nettles.
“Nobody knows that it’s there, lad, or that it’s fit tuh eat
with some bacon drippin’s or lard.”
“Don’t eat the berries. You see—the berry’s no good.
And you’d hav’ta wash the leaves a good long time.”
“I’d boil it twice, less’n I wus in a hurry.
Lawd, it’s tough to eat, chile, if you boil it jest wonst.”
He seldom was hurried; I can see him still ...
silently mowing his yard at eighty-eight,
stooped, but with a tall man’s angular gray grace.
Sometimes he’d pause to watch me running across the yard,
trampling his beans,
dislodging the shoots of his tomato plants.
He never grew flowers; I never laughed at his jokes about The Depression.
Years later I found the proper name—“pokeweed”—while perusing a dictionary.
Surprised, I asked why anyone would eat a ****.
I still can hear his laconic reply ...
“Well, chile, s’m’times them times wus hard.”
Published by Lonzie’s Fried Chicken, Grassroots Poetry, Poet’s Forum Magazine, Harp-Strings Poetry Journal, A Flasher’s Dozen (prose version), Poetry Life & Times, Centrifugal Eye, Better Than Starbucks. Keywords/Tags: Great Depression, South, pokeweed, poke salad, poke salat, bacon, lard, front porch swing, sweat bees, nettles, weeds, greens, beans, forage, foraging