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  • Apple Compote
  • Martha Modena Vertreace (bio)

I know red is red, and blue is blue, and one to ten,   and triangles, circles, and squares. And I can read.     And print Vertreace without skipping the second r

Sun and rain together all afternoon. Each afternoon.

I press my nose against the window. Inside my mother’s kitchen, the smell of rain steeps leeks and kale,     and stone-ground grits.

Four toothpicks pierce a sweet potato nub, cardinal points balanced on the rim of a jelly jar     filled with brackish water as vines spill over a carrot’s new growth. Cooking apples sliced green     in a cast-iron skillet.

My father teaches me to lace my saddle oxfords, threatening to cut my braids unless I learn.

Sun and rain together. All afternoon.

Outside, the devil is beating his wife, my father says, giving me a licorice string     for knotting bows he must cut loose.

On Castle Place,     at the sink of the curve, [End Page 29] a church which rocks Sundays with creaky tambourines and gospel,

the pastor in scarlet robes.

The sun holds a moment     to pour over his shoulders through leaden windows

just above his head. His sleeves swirl around him, orange     up and down the shafts of light and I wonder if he only looks     like a flaming tongue which lights the fires of Hell

if you let a boy touch you there.

The pastor’s twin boys strip to their trunks, run down the hill,     splashing in puddles, throwing black mulberries at each other like savages,     my mother says, savages. The devil is beating his wife, my father insists,

pointing to a wet sun.

My five-year-old mouth nibbling apples dredged in cinnamon and butter, I say nothing,     envying tin rain the color of my mother’s double boiler,

grazing chests and thighs too beautiful to be real.

Martha Modena Vertreace

Martha Modena Vertreace is a professor of English and poet-in-residence at Kennedy-King College, Chicago. She is author of Second House from the Corner, Under a Cat’s-Eye Moon, and Oracle Bones.


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pp. 29-30
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