Nobody in my family told me that my great uncle was one of those Catholic priests with pedophilia. He went to prison for it. When he died my sister told me everything. I knew he was a priest and that he baptized me, not in the name of Funk as I’d prefer but in the name of sullen pipe organ shame. Babies have no choice but to be swept into ceremony, in my case Roman Catholic style, with a basement banquet.
I didn’t know my great uncle very well, when you have a huge family people seem to fall off the radar. Then you can’t remember whether the last time you saw them was four years ago or last Christmas.
I still use the cookware from his estate sale. For spätzle, cobbler, roasted root vegetables instead of pork roast, stirred up with my hands like my mom does. If you can read you can cook, she says.
To the gods of the potluck: may the yolks stay clear of my frothy meringue.
I never really met my grandmother, except as an infant. But I use her recipes. Mom says she gave me her love of global culture- a vague concept much of the family doesn’t care to dabble in. Travel, when you’re one of 12 children like mom is, doesn’t quite happen. Though many of my uncles have gone world traveling for the Navy.
I still wear one of grandma’s wedding gifts to my dad: dark blue longsleeve shirt. 30 year old shirt. I like to sit in hammocks well into November and invite people to stare in confusion until they realize it’s like 60°F, which is comfortable, and disturbingly normal Ohio winter now.
My uncles once caught a nice big catfish, left it on the bank alive and kept fishing, wherever they were. Later they brought it back to the house and put it in the freezer. After coming back from the Fairfield county fair hours later they found him alive, sucking air, probably wondering, What am I? By then I’m sure he discovered the secret to the universe. Unless it was a female catfish, then she would have already known.
My poetry dreams in the nightshade family, Solanales. Fried eggplant, tomato plants so huge they’re the size of apple trees. I dream a medieval movie with a scene of public execution- a taunting angry crowd throws rotten vegetables. I dream of myself crashing the movie set to point out the anachronism of flying tomatoes: an Amerindian cultivar then unknown to Europe.
Poetry can dance even when people stare straight at it, to undo amnesia. The companion crops and wild harvests are always passed on from generation to generation. Isolated in a dark corner, mixed hybrid bits, carefully grafted or flushed down the drain. Camay, Chenopodium, Pacay, yacon, guayaba, ucuma, pepino, cherimoya, pitaya, canistel, sapote, and papaya. Sunflower, sumpweed, goosefoot, maygrass, giant ragweed. Just pick them from the earth and don’t let go.
About the author:
Sam Orndorff writes prose, poetry, and polemic. He teaches English in Korea while working on chapbooks and a novel, working title Aart. Look for his poem "Oconostota" in riverSedge.