Green Chile Cornbread
You start with your grandmother’s recipe
and I’ll start with mine
(cornmeal, flour, Crisco, eggs,
milk, sugar, salt, baking powder,
and kernels from one medium ear of corn).
I replace sugar with honey and not too much
(don’t want to taste like a box mix)
and corn with two cups of Hatch green chiles
(chopped, roasted, seeded, peeled).
Add wet ingredients to dry
and if the dough is too crumbly
don’t be afraid to add more milk.
After you stir in the chiles
spread dough into a greasy pyrex dish
bake at 425 for a tad more than 20 minutes.
Use toothpick test to see when it’s done.
Take butter out to soften while it cools.
And if you’ve done everything just right
top will have a thin crackly crust—
kitchen will be a big powdery mess.
Some use olive oil to sweat away the sheen
but we melt a glob of bacon fat
toss in onion, garlic, handfuls of chopped okra
cover and simmer, uncover and stir
‘til slime‘s just a memory
chunks rough-skinned and tender.
Now stew it up with tomatoes, ham hocks
bell and cayenne pepper, couple jarfuls of stock
bit of everything in your spice drawer
two bay leaves
little more cayenne
and if you got one in the icebox
a catfish head really rounds out the broth.
Turn that heat way down, pour yourself a glass
maybe touch more cayenne
go sit on the porch and let it simmer.
Most folks throw in some shrimp
but we got crawdads big as daddy’s boot
so put a few in to boil with a big old pot of rice
add a final garnish of cayenne
and get ready to go dancing tonight.
When tall enough to reach the counter
I finally got to roll walnut sized dough balls
round the sugar pan
lining them up on the cookie sheet
precisely two inches apart.
Older sister cracked eggs, measured out
half teaspoons of baking soda and salt
of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
Cousin Mark took charge of the mixing bowl
2 cups of flour, 1 of sugar
pour in a melted stick of butter
half cup of dark gooey molasses.
After the dough was mixed up real good
had to wait 30 minutes
while it chilled in the fridge.
And Ben shuffled them in and out of the oven
only took 8 minutes to cook.
Uncle Tommy never let them properly cool
before sneaking a couple he called quality control.
Good thing the recipe makes 5 dozen at a time—
still it takes most of a day
to fill all the snow scene and holly tins
and tie them up with large red ribbons—
one for each teacher and preacher
for neighbors and any townfolk who got no kin.
I named this poem Spot
because of his frisky bounce, shaggy coat
and the way he meets you at the door
pleading to be taken out
to run and sniff and mark his territory.
He strains at the leash
so taking him for a walk in the park
is never a walk in the park
and Spot, he does not fetch—
toss a slobbery tennis ball and he’ll scramble away
sniff the air
head into the woods
or trot down the hill to chase mallards
round the pond. And while you’ll never see
your ball again, he always brings back something—
petrified bone, half a squirrel, new friend.
And later reclined in your favorite chair
ready for a sitcom
he plops his insistent head in your lap
those sweet droopy eyes–
of course you’ll skritch between his ears.
All your attention all the time
that’s all he really wants.
I named this poem Spot
because Mary says
more people like dogs than poetry
because everyone loves a good belly rub.
In an All-Night Cafe on Route 27
having waited until they’ve finished their pie,
Raphael drops an observation;
Everyone assumes you’re responsible for
Bosnia, free jazz, Monty Python, and the ozone layer
but nobody’s blaming you
for the latest flare up along the Gaza Strip.
Luce bows his head and with the slightest grin
acknowledges whispering in Ornette Coleman’s ear,
but vigorously denies responsibility
for Britney Spears and the Tea Party;
You know there are lines I’d never cross.
And after they’ve sorted through massacres
in Eritrea and Brazil, and who gave whom
plans for uranium enrichment,
the lost one asks about the parent
and Raphael replies;
Has good decades and bad, fragile grip
on time and occasionally just wanders off,
but we manage. Gabby does most of the caregiving
sitting at the right hand
sharing old photos and keeping up with family,
and even though I’ve never heard Gabby lie before
he’s been implying
that you’re about ready to come home.
That always gets a smile.
You could you know. We’ve left the chess board
set up and waiting for your next move.
Alan Gann, a retired electrical engineer in the midst of his second career as a teaching artist, facilitates creative writing workshops at TexansCan Academy and wrote DaVerse Works, Big Thought’s poetry curriculum for secondary schools. Longtime member and current president of the Dallas Poets Community, he has helped edit their literary journal, Illya’s Honey, and became the guiding force behind their peer workshop series. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Award nominee, Alan co-edits the online journal Red River Review. What’s left of Alan’s time is filled with folk music, bike riding, bird walks, and photographing dragonflies.