Meat grease, flour and water, stirred till smooth— it’s what my forebears ate, if they were lucky.
It’s what my mother ate, those hard dark years she worked at a sawmill way out in the mountains, learning to live on cigarettes and coffee
and cold biscuits raised from the dead by gravy.
Now and then she’d cook a little for us, something to moisten and darken and quicken
the bowls of bland white rice or mashed potatoes I’d shape into a cratered volcano whose steaming lava overflow improved
everything it touched on my dinner plate.
Good gravy’s not an afterthought, a dressing, a murky cloud masking a dish’s dull prospect:
whether poured from a Thanksgiving china boat or a black iron skillet in Bloody Madison, it’s the meal’s essence, where flesh meets spirit,
where fat becomes faith, where juice conveys grace
as red-eye, giblet, sausage, faithful sawmill— whenever I think of those savory names
and the times I’ve poured or ladled or spooned then mixed and dipped and sopped up their elixir, not wanting to waste a single filling drop,
my mouth starts making its own thin gravy again. [End Page 129]
Michael McFee teaches poetry writing and directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has published nine books of poems (most recently The Smallest Talk), a collection of essays (The Napkin Manuscripts), and three anthologies, including The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat: Poems by Fifteen Contemporary North Carolina Poets.