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When Poets Pray

(Wisdom from other Writers)

Where I Come From

I come from red hard clay,

Carolina soil

that needs whatever you can throw in

to make it soft,

to make it fertile.

I come from home-grown tomatoes

flash-boiled so the skins

fall off in your hands.

I come from kitchen steam

rising up from the stove

where everything from green beans

to summer squash -

beets, peppers, and those perfectly ripe tomatoes

were preserved in

print sized, quart sized jars.

I come from tomatoes and Duke’s mayonnaise

on white bread.

I come from home-made biscuits

and country ham,

red-eyed gravy,

grits and cornmeal mush.

I come from turnip greens

and collard greens

with a little vinegar

and slabs of cornbread.

I am from crowder peas

ad hoppin’ John on New Year’s day.

I don’t recognize those hard round discs

they serve at restaurants

because I come from red tomatoes,

yellow tomatoes, tomatoes so big one slice

hangs out on either side

of the Sunbeam bread.

I will never get that taste of those

tomatoes out of my mouth.

I come from that old time religion.

I come from a pulpit pounding preacher

who put on fishing waders

and dunked me all the way under

when I was five years old

in a white dress,

as if a five year old would need

a white dress to be pure.

I come from Easter Sundays

at the crack of dawn

stumbling in the dark,

waiting with inexplicable joy

for the sun, the singing.

I come from family dinners

and saying grace.

I come from fresh fish

fried the same day they were caught.

I come from hush puppies and Cole slaw

coming together in the kitchen

while outside my brothers, my Dad and I

scraped away scales, removed heads,

threw guts to waiting cats,

everything that had to be done

so the fish could be dredged in flour

and pan fried, crispy, flaky, perfect.

I come from the sound of a chain saw

cutting through trees,

wood thrown into the back of the truck,

stacked in a woodshed,

hauled inside.

I am from wood stoves

kept going all night and no other

source of heat

unless you count cats,

snuggled close in bedrooms not much

warmer than outside.

I come from ashes

cleaned out of those stoves

at least once a day,

shoveled into a big metal buckdt

and carried out to the garden,

food for the soil.

I come from ashes,

caught in the wind,

swirling around me,

with tiny glowing embers.

ashes to ashes,

dust to dust.

Food for the soil

where in mid-summer

the red clay

yielded potatoes,

more than you can imagine,

hidden under the surface

waiting to be unearthed, gathered.

I come from the woods,

from well-worn paths to the creek,

from salamanders and tadpoles.

I come from trees,

oak and pine, sycamore and maple.

I come from the forest floor

lying on soft green moss

or crinkly autumn leaves

looking up,

breathing in.

I come from the water,

from rivers

and knowing all the best places to fish,

the deep holes where fat catfish rolled

out from under rocks,

and the edges of currents where striped bass waited

for a meal to float by.

I come from fishing till dark

and knowing my way back

to the truck.

I come from the ocean.

I come from waves and wonder,

from tying fishheads to

the end of my line

and tossing it into the gray-black

mucky edge of the inland waterway

and slowly, so slowly,

luring a crab close enough to grab

with a net.

I come from late summer days

watching the nets come in,

from mullet running in the surf

so thick you could almost walk

on water

bluefish, king mackerel

cutting them cleanly

with their elegant “V” shaped mouths.

I come from the moon rising over

a Carolina surf,

from walking on the beach at night,

drawing pictures in the sand and

eking the last bit of good out of the day.

I come from waves and wonder,

from crying every time I said good-bye

to the ocean.

Sometimes I still do.

(Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt)

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