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Rosalie Sanara Petrouske: “Eating Corn Soup under the Strawberry Moon”

2020 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize Finalist

I really dug the step by step precise writing, the repetition in the middle, the sure steady rhythm of “Eating Corn Soup under the Strawberry Moon.” I could taste and smell the poem. At the close, the poem left me with a sense of peace and power.

— Tony Gloeggler

***

Eating Corn Soup under the Strawberry Moon

(Beaver Island, Michigan, June 2019)

At the community center, they serve bowls
of Indian corn soup, fry bread and whitefish, lightly
sautéed to a perfect golden brown.
The Ojibwe woman behind the table wears jeans and t-shirt,
a traditional medicine bag tied around her neck,
long gray hair pulled back in a thick braid.

She tells me great-great-great grandmothers
handed down this recipe
to mothers, to sisters, to her.
Grandmothers born, she said, before even cameras existed.
She notes the camera strapped around my neck.
It takes three days to make, she tells me,
the corn is soaked and cooked in hardwood ashes.

I picture her sifting the ashes,
while water heats in a cast-iron pot,
using her sturdy thumb to push kernels
up and off the cob—then stirring, stirring, stirring,
waiting, waiting, waiting for just the right consistency,
tasting and then tasting again.
She talks for a long time, until the next person steps in line.
Smiling, I thank her, know she is not giving away any secrets.

I take my bowl, plate with fry bread and fish
back to the communal table beneath the stars,
drop a ten-dollar bill in the donation jar.
At the first spoonful, my mouth explodes with flavor—
smoke, ashes, salt, unnamed spices, mandaamin
both tang and sweetness, such savory delights.
Slowly, I let each bite slide down my throat,
finish my bowl and go back for another,
then one more, drop more money into the jar.

Later, will be drums, sacred tobacco
offered to the night sky, along with a prayer—
I join many voices, my belly filled with soup.
and feel no hunger tonight.

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