Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Rita Sims Quillen: Taste and Other Mysteries

Dad poured packs of peanuts
in those small Coke bottles
washing all that good salt
into a sugary brine
and bland mush,
loved chicken livers fried crisp
(even the smell makes me gag),
delighted in candied orange slices
with the consistency of sugared plastic for dessert.
He would pour out a whole jar of canned tomatoes
—edible dreamcatchers floating in red soup—
and relish them with peanut butter crackers.
Junior was the only person
in the entire world
who actually loved Claxton fruitcake.
Worst of all, most repulsive snack ever—
those little flat cans with a key on top
which he would roll back
to reveal a smelly treasure:
little oily sardines to lay on saltines
which he would make disappear
into the smile under his moustache.
How does one reconcile it?
Sound judgment otherwise,
his brain was hardwired to change flavors
from reality to some phantom or dream,
into delicacies inexplicable to me,
eating memories, perhaps,
from another age, another place,
where he was a fatherless child, 
his mother too sad to get out of bed.
All I know is he would laugh out loud
at this remembering
while hating all the attention—
no opportunity to defend himself
or explain or qualify.
As someone famously said,
no one wants a poet in the family.
He’s not here to forgive me
place the calloused hand of absolution
on my shoulder giving me permission
to go work another field, plant some other seed
try a new recipe.
But it’s time.
I am old now, too,
with my own strange cravings.
I have worked his garden
captured his countenance
kept a legend of all his accounts
made a record of his days
served up his plate
hued the jagged field rock of his life
into a smooth stone necklace
I wear near my heart
as I set my own table
prepare a new feast.


From Some Notes You Hold by Rita Sims Quillen (Madville Publishing, 2020) Copyright 2020 Rita Sims Quillen.

Rita Simms Quillen

6 comments on “Rita Sims Quillen: Taste and Other Mysteries

  1. Rita
    October 25, 2020

    Thank you, Michael Simms and Vox Populi, for sharing this poem from my new book coming in just a few days. And thank you all the kind commenters as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. catherinealiceneal
    October 23, 2020

    Again, the ending on this is just beautiful; I must be about your father’s age. My grandparents lived in the Appalachian Mountains, and I have eaten all these foods, except for the tomatoes with peanut butter crackers. Such a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Of course, sardines are a health food.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      October 25, 2020

      Thanks, Catherine. I remember my grandfather eating pickled pigs feet and onions. He relished these rich, salty, fatty things.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Huntington
    October 21, 2020

    And some of those sounded good ( except I am now vegetarian), but he might have looked askance at my tempeh?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beth Peyton
    October 21, 2020


    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on October 21, 2020 by in Health and Nutrition, Poetry and tagged , , .

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