SELF-PORTRAIT WITH THE SMITHFIELD HAM
WE HAD TO CUT ON THE BANDSAW
Mother, for once, it wasn’t your fault.
You always said you can’t soak hams
long enough and one full day and night
seemed adequate, but we gave it two,
scrubbed mold, rind, salt away, changed
the water, tucked it like a baby in its bath;
another day, rinsed, patted dry, made ready.
Butter and brown sugar coated all our hands.
Let’s face it; it was ancient, not just aged.
The woman at the ham shack must have seen
my husband’s Pennsylvania plates and figured
what the hell, he won’t be coming back.
Or it was just bad luck. But wasn’t
our discussion on life with Lewis and Clark
educational for the children? Ham jerky!
Ham shoelaces! Ham-flavored chewing gum
to last a winter portage through the Bitterroots!
Oh, we were jolly then, those spots still undiscovered
on your lungs. Yes, my Yankee husband
sliced it on the band saw but so would any man
faced with that ham who had a power tool in reach.
That was Easter. It’s November now.
You’re dead and I am making black bean soup,
beginning with a frozen cut of that disaster
sizzling in a taste of olive oil. No other
seasoning is needed for this winter’s portage,
Mother, just my store of crosscut sections:
meat and marrow, sugar, grease and bone.
—from Rattle #29, Summer 2008
2008 Pushcart Prize Nomination