April 13: Ode to Pepper Vinegar by Kevin Young

In the aftermath of the sudden and unexpected loss of his father, Kevin Young found himself composing a series of food odes—odes to grits and crawfish and okra; an “Elegy for Maque Choux,” a “Song of Cracklin.” Perhaps a way of feeding the unassuagable hunger of grief, the poems form a symphony of family remembrance which stands at the center of his latest volume, Dear Darkness.

Ode to Pepper Vinegar

You sat in the tomb

of our family fridge
for years, without

fail. You were all

I wanted covering
my greens, satisfaction

I’ve since sought

for years in restaurants
which claimed soul, but neither

knew you nor

your vinegar prayer.
Baby brother

of bitterness, soothsayer,

you taught
me the difference between loss

& holding on. Next to the neon

of the maraschino cherries,
you floated & stayed
constant as a flame

on an unknown soldier’s grave—
I never did know

how you got here

you just were. Adrift
in your mason jar

you were a briny bit of where

we came from, rusty lid
awaiting our touch

& tongue—you were faith

in the everyday, not rare
as the sugarcane

my grandparents sent north

come Christmas, drained
sweet & dry, delicious, gone

by New Year’s—

no, you were nearer,
familiar, the thump

thump of an upright bass

or the brass
of a funeral band

bringing us home.

Read more poems from Dear Darkness.

More about Dear Darkness

About Kevin Young

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Meet Kevin Young in Philadelphia on April 19.