24 February 2022

A head of cauliflower sits on a wooden cutting board on a wooden table. In the distance, a blurry chef’s knife is visible. The table is flanked by two blurry wooden chairs.

The poem I’m most proud of having written got cut from my manuscript, so why not share it here? From a simpler time, when the big news was a great mustard pickle shortage facing my homeland.


The national canning company said
there would be no more mustard pickles
for our Sunday dinners of cabbagey
boiled comfort after Mass,
no pickles to grace our salt-meat hash,
no pickles for our baked-ham suppers
nor for our cold ham sandwiches
on warm white bread. None
for the pan-fried fishcakes, dense
with salt cod, confettied with onion
and flecked with summer savoury.
No thick yellow sauce to spread
and pool on charity turkey-tea paper plates
at the Lions’ Club or the parish hall,
no pickles left in the shops at all.

So we opened our pantries, brought jars
from basement shelves, ducked crawlspace
clearance to emerge with half-pints, pints,
standard and wide-mouth jars gleaming
gold (and near as dear). We arranged
our wares on church-sale tables and raised
enough money to fund a mission to India.

The missionaries returned with suitcases
of turmeric, fat, damp rhizomes folded into
souvenir T-shirts and silently smuggled.
The turmeric was planted in new-built
community glasshouses, flourished
among the cucumbers and red peppers.
Gardeners tended their vegetable plots
with wartime vigour. Around the bay,
old-timers hauled the fitful silver
bodies of capelin by bucket loads
to nourish the stony soil, lugged pans
of clean ocean to dry in the sun, raking
the water away until there was only
salt. In town, construction sprawl
was halted, the land dedicated to lush,
waving mustard fields and the cultivation
of sugar beets. Children spent their
summers plucking pale-green caterpillars
from cauliflowers’ pale-green ribs,
wrapping the leaves tight to shade
the white heads of curd within. Lowly
crab apples were newly prized, as urban
foragers learned the ancient secrets
of making vinegar from windfall.
Each small shop developed a signature
slant, each community a variation, an accent.

In the provincial archives, two pieces
of paper are on prominent display: one,
a brittle, spill-stained list of ingredients
taken down in an oblique, last-century
hand, and the other a facsimile of an
official letter to the national canning company,
telling them they can shag right off.

(From my master’s thesis, The Debt (Poems), Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2018.)