I once knew a wife with rattling bones,
whose face was made of rice cakes
whose blood was made of consommé
whose skin was hard as eggshell.
There was no melting her.
Her child swallowed nothing
but greens and goat’s milk;
he was spindly and failed to thrive.
I once knew a wife, plump as a doughnut
with buttered hands and a floury lap
whose babies always wanted more.
Her sighs weighed heavy on the rolling pin,
her crusts were never tender,
there was fury in her kneading;
her loaves would take on air and multiply;
her children grew too fat.
I once knew a pitiless wife
who smelled of peach and salt
who warmed her skin like a caramel glaze.
She kept a secret book of recipes,
lured her husband with a calculated sauce,
then killed him slowly
with foie gras, double cream and hollandaise.
Silence the village gossip with nutty figs
rolled in crushed peppercorns.
Layer the fiery fruit in a jar between bay leaves.
Store in a dark place for three days.
Leave your offering on her doorstep.
Sweeten your mother-in-law,
a small, crepey woman in a black dress
smelling of mothballs,
with stuffed quails roasted in thick balsamic sauce,
followed by ricotta-rose cheesecake and marzipan-filled figs.
Spill velvet-pink petals over her plate.
Soothe inflamed ulcers and lesions
with a steamed fig, slippery elm, flaxseed poultice.
Wrap around the weeping skin in a muslin cloth.
Pick a ribbed fig from the tree at twilight.
Split the dark cocoon in two.
Rub the wart with amber pulp and seeds.
Tie the halves together again.
Bury them in the flinty earth
under the waning moon.
Cure fatigue, insomnia or nightmares
by boiling milk poured in a pail
with sun-baked figs and turmeric.
Add lavender honey to taste. Drink slowly.
Bind three white Cilento figs
with a crimson ribbon for dreams of love.
Place the fruit under your pillow.
In the morning,
loop the ribbon around your waist.
If your heart is in your mouth,
sear it, eat it with figs.
Beguile your partner with fig-leaf absolute
dabbed along the curve of your neck.
Wear almond blossoms in your hair.
Dance on a terrace with a view of the harbour,
to the flashing grin of an accordionist
who smells of sulphur and plays like the devil.
Clap your hands. This is no time to tiptoe.
On a balmy midsummer evening, wrap up your al fresco meal
at the warped wooden table under the plane tree
with blistered grilled figs, spoonfuls of soft mascarpone
drizzled with orange blossom and rose water.
Smell the mimosa.
Don’t wipe the sugary smudge from your chin.
Carry the sated silence to bed.
Arouse your lover with plump, purple figs in a cool bowl of water.
Break the thin, moist skin with your fingers.
Close your eyes. Listen to your breathing.
On a windy day welcome your new neighbours across the pasture.
Make them feel at home with capocollo,
a sausage of figs, almonds, pistachios and cinnamon.
Fold in leaves
left in a basket on the porch. Follow the dung
trail home, a wasp
hovering at your shoulder.
In autumn, line your pantry shelves with jars of fig jam
scented with cardamom pods. Seal in the sunshine
with smooth wax discs and screw-top lids.
Feed a hungry family
with slow-cooked pork loin and Adriatic fig stuffing.
Serve with golden polenta. Garnish with watercress.
Open bottles of the full bodied local wine.
Taste the olive-wood smoke,
the measure of November’s indulgences.
When the sky pops and hisses with stars,
celebrate the year’s trailing tail.
Prepare fig fillets stuffed with amaretti biscotti and smoky chocolate slivers.
Serve with steaming espressos before midnight. Va bene.
Born in 1948, Myesha Jenkins spent most of her life in California. She graduated from the University of California, Riverside, with a BA degree in Black Studies. She moved to South Africa from the San Francisco Bay Area where she was active in progressive politics, the women’s movement and the anti-apartheid struggle. Her collection, Breaking the surface, was published by Timbila Poetry Project in 2005.
My experience of life
is through food
entwined and embedded
in my memories
Home is ham hocks and pinto beans
brownies and corn pudding
reflecting the origins
of my south mama
Cuba will always be
strong black coffee
and seven kinds of pork
at the Palacio Nacional
waiting to meet Fidel
Sourdough bread across the bridges
to the jeweled city of my discovery
of carnitas tacos and burritos
pad thai, mushu pork and pupusas
walking away crab cocktails
searching for myself
Years of planning and assessing
my little corner of the revolution
in Miriam’s Kitchen
or Manila Beach
through jasmin tea, jung and kimchee
or the occasional delivery of
coconut bread and codfish cakes
from Linda’s last visit to Brooklyn
The beginning of my end to drinking
Flor de Cana in Nicaragua
and it’s deadly equivalent in Hawaii
staggering to the beach
running from my dreams
My first shaky month in a new life
buying dinner “R2 a plate, mama”
from the bus stop to home
finding umngqushu and phutu,
koeksisters and all the kinds of curries
When I go to Cape Town
the trip is useless
without the Mexican, Thai, Japanese food
I crave as much
as the magic sea mountain
There is more.
Love will always be litchis
Summer is pineapple and mangoes
Indulgence is brie and a ton of seafood
or a Magnum chocolate bar
I wonder how much more of this life
I could live
without the food
swallowing all of my energy