L. Renée is a third-year MFA candidate at Indiana University, where she has served as Nonfiction Editor of the Indiana Review. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Tin House Online, Poet Lore, the Minnesota Review, Southern Humanities Review, Appalachian Heritage and New Limestone Review.“Fish Fry” appeared previously in Appalachian Review, Spring 2020 and currently appears in Women Speak: Volume Six by Sheila-Na-Gig Editions: https://sheilanagigblog.com/poetry-prose-art-anthology-women-speak-volume-6/
Everything delicious is served on Friday.
Jesus should get a do-over for the Last Supper,
since He missed out on the miracle
that is Wonder Bread made paste by perch’s
corn-mealed skin sweating Crisco, clinging
like faith to a mouth’s roof, even as the tongue
tries to negotiate release, swat freedom for teeth.
We know what delay tastes like.
We have waited for a check that affords us
this feast of fish golden crisp and the glow of black joy.
With Luther Vandross praising us for being bad
on Aunt Mary’s 45 spinner, who would call this dinner?
Stove tops bubble with pots of kale and collards
made sides only by smoked ham hock oozing
salty fat, their doneness determined by Mama Joyce
who dips her Too Blessed 2 Be Stressed mug in the pot-
liquor and sips slowly, purses her lush lips and declares:
It got more meldin’ to do. Ain’t that true for all of us?
She snorts every time Lil’ Russell comes by to kiss her highest
cheekbone, his jeans drifting toward hell like he forgot
his real tribe. Nevermind, no matter, we made it here together
the Old Timers will say — though they suck their teeth at the sight
of his drawers, at the sight of a Reneger at their Bid Whist table,
at the scent of Dee Dee’s too-sweet macaroni and cheese.
We all fall short of perfection like memory, but Uncle Harold
brings us back to where we started: yellow perch biting their ashen
end of a line in Lake Erie’s Ohio waters — the place Grandaddy,
wearing his old mining boots, taught generations the patience
needed to stay fed. Uncle Harold will never bring the tartar sauce
Cousin Cathy, out East, developed a taste for. He will fling back his
James Brown-slicked bouffanted crown and howl the sound of hunting
hounds choking on coal dust, remind her she still a West Virginia holler
girl, remind us travels ain’t useful without this knowing.