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Home Cooking

A poem that recounts the remarkable story of the author's great-grandmother, Alma Davenport, who was born in Pheba, Mississippi, in 1898.

No one in my family
owned slaves — like Kenny says,
people aren’t slaves and can’t be

Owned — but at least two
in my family did
enslave at least one

Black woman. My great
grandmother’s great-
great-great grandfather,

whose body was either
lost or destroyed, left
a woman named Lucy

to his wife Margaret
in his will. With
the Cherokee (from “people

of different speech”), women
were the heads of households,
owned property, held

political power.
That was long before
becoming Greenville,

South Carolina, and long
before any of my
known line enslaved, believed

they owned, lived on “settled”
land, or protected
their own. Family I’ve known

has leaned toward
the matrilineal, but
maybe even that’s just

romance and i-
dolatry. There is
no record of Joseph

Davenport’s body,
but he left a woman
to his wife, whatever

gesture that is,
and 94 years later,
my grandmother’s mother

was born in Pheba,
Mississippi, and learned
to cook from Black women,

even as she called them
what she shouldn’t have but
so many of her children

did. Plenty of us
have a mamaw, but I
was the great-grandchild

that apocryphally coined
ours Beautiful Mamaw.
When she was 15,

her three-day-old child died.
She married at 18,
had five kids, and was showing

a sixth when her husband
died in a car crash, July
1926. She was

27, had a breakdown,
delivered the child that fall,
but the state found her unfit,

had already scattered
her other five across
the South. (Sounds familiar.)

Then a web of kindnesses,
desire, and wit, as she brought
her children back with her

again, to a new home
in Norfolk, Virginia.
That triumph lined

with loss, spotted with venom,
streaked with laughter. All of it
true, the whole watershed.

What to do with all that?
If the heart is a map,
you still have to squint

and it’s a good idea
to check another.
If the heart is a stewpot,

you want to know
if the peas are black-eyed,
Glenwood or crowder.

You want to know
where the collards
are from. If the heart is

a language, its original
dialect is lost
like an ancestor’s body.

Andy Fogle is the author of “Across From Now” and seven chapbooks of poetry, including the forthcoming chapbook “Arc & Seam: Poems of Farouk Goweda,” co-translated with Walid Abdallah. Fogle is from Virginia Beach and the D.C. area, and now lives with his family in upstate New York, teaching high school. He was the recipient of a 2021 Individual Artist Grant from Saratoga Arts to write poems related to abolitionist John Brown. His music can be found at fogle.bandcamp.com.

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2 thoughts on “Home Cooking”

  1. The poet Fogle has crafted a slow poem that winds around facts and surmises. Ultimately it asks the big question: now, “what are we to do with all this? ”
    “Take it to heart”– to Map, stewpot, language.
    Thank you for dredging up the word “Mamaw” I had forgotten.

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