Ode to Gumbo & Other Memories

For weeks I have waited

for a day without death

or doubt.  Instead

the sky set afire

or the flood

filling my face.

A stubborn drain

nothing can fix.

Every day death.

Every morning death

& every night

& evening

And each hour

a kind of winter—

all weather

is unkind.  Too

hot, or cold

that creeps the bones.

Father, your face

a faith

I can no longer see.

Across the street

a dying, yet

still-standing tree.

So why not

make a soup

of what’s left?  Why

not boil & chop

something outside

the mind—let us

welcome winter

for a few hours, even

in summer.  Some

say Gumbo

starts with file

or with roux, begins

with flour & water

making sure

not to burn.  I know Gumbo

starts with sorrow—

with hands that cannot wait

but must—with okra

& a slow boil

& things that cannot

be taught, like grace.

Done right,

Gumbo lasts for days.

Done right, it will feed

you & not let go.

Like grief

you can eat & eat

& still plenty

left.  Food

of the saints,

Gumbo will outlast

even us—like pity,

you will curse it

& still hope

for the wing

of chicken bobbed

up from below.

Like God

Gumbo is hard

to get right

& I don’t bother

asking for it outside

my mother’s house.

Like life, there’s no one

way to do it,

& a hundred ways,

from here to Sunday,

to get it dead wrong.

Save all the songs.

I know none,

even this, that will

bring a father

back to his son.

Blood is thicker

than water under

any bridge

& Gumbo thicker

than that.  It was

my father’s mother

who taught mine how

to stir its dark mirror—

now it is me

who wishes to plumb

its secret

depths.  Black

Angel, Madonna

of the Shadows,

Hail Mary strong

& dark as dirt,

Gumbo’s scent fills

this house like silence

& tells me everything

has an afterlife, given

enough time & the right

touch.  You need

okra, sausage, bones

of a bird, an entire

onion cut open

& wept over, stirring

cayenne in, till the end

burns the throat—

till we can amen

& pretend

such fiery

mercy is all we know.

Kevin Young’s Ode to Gumbo in Dear Darkness

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