New Poem

In Praise of Okra

No one believes in you
like I do. I sit you down on the table
& they overlook you for
fried chicken & grits,
crab cakes & hushpuppies,
black-eyed peas & succotash &
& sweet potatoes & watermelon.

Your stringy, slippery texture
reminds them of the creature
from the movie Aliens.

But I tell my friends that if they don’t like you
they are cheating themselves;
you were brought from Africa
as seeds, hidden in the ears
of slaves.

Nothing was wasted in our kitchens.
We took the unused & the throwaways
& made feasts;
we taught our children
how to survive,

So I write this poem
in praise of okra
& the cooks who understood
how to make something out of nothing.
Your fibrous skin
melts in my mouth--
green flecks of flavor,
still tough, unbruised,
part of the fabric of earth,
soul food.

Copyright 2006 January G. O'Neil


Deb R said…
I'm not a fan of okra, but I'm a fan of your poem in praise of it. I especially love those last few lines: "green flecks of flavor,
still tough, unbruised,
part of the fabric of earth,
soul food."....Wonderful.
Anonymous said…
I am from Oklahoma, and we ate fried okra all the time! I LOVE okra. This is such a great poem, not only about okra but also about history, about your family. I echo DebR: wonderful!
Jennifer S. said…
I seriously LOVE this poem. I've never tried Okra. Off to read more...
Anonymous said…
Beautiful images! I'm glad to have found you, another poet mom, today.
claireylove said…
The way that you have woven together the history of slavery and okra is simple and yet profound, which avoids over sentimentality. This is a beautiful poem (though I must admit I'm an okra virgin...)
January said…
Ladies, you MUST try okra. Try it breaded or fried--it really is pretty good.

Thanks for the responses. I can't wait to read all of your blogs.
I love how you wrote this as a direct address--it shifts the perspective and kind of turns things on their head a bit. Very unique--a very powerful way to address deeper issues. And you are a "Poet Mom"? I'm looking forward to reading through your archives!
paris parfait said…
OK, let me just say I HATE okra! I grew up in the South, where we were forced to eat it. And in Egypt, it's part of their national dish and one cannot refuse to eat such a gift! That being said, your poem makes it seem almost edible. Lovely!
J Malcolm said…
I love fried okra and you poem is amazing. What makes it powerful is its directness. It cut quickly and deep. I really like the list in the first stanza, the way you blended all those foods together into lines. That is very difficult to do.
Kay Cooke said…
Okra sounds 'interesting' ... I loved your poem. Looking forward to reading more.

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