“Crackling Cornbread” by Charles A. Swanson

The toaster-oven, the hot plate,
these took the place
of the full stove, wood-fired,
so what we ate

was not much.  You used to make
the best biscuits—
my memory said.  Little we had
you made from scratch.

At eighty-four, soft foods,
overcooked cabbage,
canned soup, Dinty-Moore stew,
suited your age.

I begged for something new,
something I’d read,
for something cooked at the fireplace,
for crackling cornbread.

Too much trouble, you said.
I watched as you stooped
with your old bones, tent dress.
You reached for the scoop

and shoveled embers onto the hearth.
The dutch oven
greased and ready, you filled
and placed over

the bed of orange and yellow coals.
You put on the lid,
lipped to hold more embers,
and made another bed

of pulsing heat on the metal top—
heat below, heat above.
The iron three-legged pot,
the front-piece of stones,

the trick of transforming
a fire and a hearth
into a ready kitchen, and you
ready to serve

with quick wrists, sure timing.
You turned out the bread,
lush with golden bits of fat,
browned and crusty edge,

and I had never, never before
eaten such cornbread,
soaked in butter, so moist, so sweet,
but too much trouble, you said.

Screen Shot 2020-01-31 at 1.30.08 PMCharles A. Swanson has recently retired from teaching dual enrollment English in the Academy for Engineering and Technology, serving the Southside region of Virginia. Frequently published in Appalachian magazines, he also pastors a small church, Melville Avenue Baptist in Danville. He has two books of poems: After the Garden, published by MotesBooks, and Farm Life and Legend, from Finishing Line Press. He is a frequent contributor to the online poetry magazine, Songs of Eretz.