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by Michael McFee
Southern Cultures, Vol. 15, No. 4: The Edible South

". . . where fat becomes faith, where juice conveys grace . . ."

Meat grease, flour and water, stirred till smooth
it’s what my forebears ate, if they were lucky.

It’s what my mother ate, those hard dark years
she worked at a sawmill way out in the mountains,
learning to live on cigarettes and coffee

and cold biscuits raised from the dead by gravy.

Now and then she’d cook a little for us,
something to moisten and darken and quicken

the bowls of bland white rice or mashed potatoes
I’d shape into a cratered volcano
whose steaming lava overflow improved

everything it touched on my dinner plate.

Good gravy’s not an afterthought, a dressing,
a murky cloud masking a dish’s dull prospect:

whether poured from a Thanksgiving china boat
or a black iron skillet in Bloody Madison,
it’s the meal’s essence, where flesh meets spirit,

where fat becomes faith, where juice conveys grace

as red-eye, giblet, sausage, faithful sawmill
whenever I think of those savory names

and the times I’ve poured or ladled or spooned
then mixed and dipped and sopped up their elixer,
not wanting to waste a single filling drop,

my mouth starts making its own thin gravy again.