The Kitchen



“A wise woman puts a grain of sugar into everything she says to a man,

and takes a grain of salt with everything he says to her.”

                                                                                                –Helen Rowland

They showed me how to finger wild carrot blunts,

snip flowered kale leaves, tear the terse from sturdier

stems. The kitchens I knew were womanless; full


of men who cooked, silently, mouths riven enough

to sample sauce or graze. I snuck in, helped them

cut, trim, heft handfuls of severed greens into bowls


covered and ready to simmer.  Shaved frozen

butter into flour, a few splashes of water, careful

not to knead too much or you’ll kill it, then


rimmed wily sides of pans with flattened dough

stabbed by a fork so the apples could breathe

sugar.  I peeled and stripped knots of ginger,


gleaned scallions, sliced them into thin rings

stuck to each other.  Stout, bolder onions startled

tears that filmed and blurred everything I saw.


I guarded myself cutting meat, for how I sliced

through a thumb once.  There was the bled wound

a man mended with the same fat needle and thread


he used to stitch a turkey.  Nights were bottomless,

boiling pots of water; days: pans seared with oil,

peppers sautéed crimson.  Years honeyed into


turnip torment; the past a splash of vinegar

that worried beets from plum to sanguine,

potatoes yellowed into curry, anise clumps.


To cook with men was to learn how to season

the world into something we’d consume, and we

did.  Quickly.  I loved the exquisite, pinioned forms


of their hostile hands, scarred fingers that pinched

saffron, gripped iron skillets scorched with living.

I tasted everything.  There was one who handled


lit flames and fired garlic into chords of music I’d

never forget.  A mound of ripe tomatoes we stacked

into a tower leaning crimson, on the verge of falling.

Francine Conley is a poet, performer, and director. She has a chapbook of poems, How Dumb the Stars through Parallel Press (2001), was a founding and active member of Franco-American touring theatre company, Le Theatre de la Chandelle Verte 2001-2014. Over the years she’s written, produced and performed eight one-woman multi-media shows in English, including her most recent, The Narrow Road (2015-16). Her poems, interviews and reviews have appeared in such journals as: The New England Review, Juked, Shadowgraph, The Adroit Journal, American Literary Review, Avatar, Palaver, and The Collagist. For more on her art: