Why I Hate Spam
In 1937 Jay Hormel invented spam,
just in time for the war.
Like pilgrims to Canterbury, so each spring
spam lovers to Minnesota, to the shrine
to blended meat, assurance that the memory
of spam will last as long as the meat itself,
that spam eaters will not die out one by one
like war veterans, to a courtyard with a statue
of spam’s creator beside a gigantic porker cast
in bronze, through a brick edifice in shades
of pink, to the Great Wall of Spam—thousands
of cans flanked by flying pigs—to the vintage
posters of soldiers and spam, in spring they come.
Think of those soldiers, hundreds of thousands
of them, with their rations of spam, pink and purple
meat, compacted like corkboard, and preserved
like memories, memories I’d like to forget—
the year my father left us, night after night of spam,
my mother in the kitchen weeping over the frying
pan as she flipped spamburgers or served me
a spam croquette shaped like a mountain and just
as unscalable. I imagined chunks of pig flesh,
ground-up tails, and spongy fungus from the toes.
I imagined tongues, brains, and snouts. I probed
my dinner for errant hairs, but each time
I complained my mother told me to be grateful,
told me once more about my father’s brother,
who’d gone to war and never come home,
the night the telegram came, my uncle’s wife
so crazy she couldn’t even feed her baby,
my father’s rage, and the soldiers ate spam
and surely, she said, must have been grateful,
So shut up and eat your spam!
I wondered if spam was the last meal
my uncle ate before his final mission.
And I still hope it wasn’t. I hope he had lobster,
an improbable lobster, served in its bright red
shell, smelling of ocean and home, not that awful
meat the color of bruises and made of fragments.
Somewhere between beaters and handle,
the small motor of the mixer whirring,
twin beaters blending sugar and butter,
house scented, breath bated for chocolate,
desire took hold for a taste on her tongue,
and she put one finger from her free hand
into the beater still beating, and the blades
gripped the tip hard, ripped the nail loose,
lifted it off the finger. She did not cry out—
it happened so fast. The pain she will always
remember, blood like drops of food coloring
in the batter, the painted nail floating on top.
Beaters stilled, she removed the nail, added
melted chocolate, and finished her cake.
She is learning a primary lesson: that taste
is better when not swiftly satisfied, that desire
cannot be rushed but must be stirred slowly,
slowly, and best by hand.
My Catholic Friend Takes Me to Church
I wanted to know why she crossed herself
past every church, after each Amen in every prayer.
Something about nails, she said, and staying free
of the Devil, his dark magic, the temptation of snake.
Something about the precision of the four points
fascinated me—forehead, chest, left shoulder, right—
the sign of the cross, she called it, gestures fluid,
automatic, no stop missing along the hand’s way,
a kind of perfection it seemed to me
who did not go to church and knew no prayers,
had never held wafer or tasted wine on the tongue,
who knew no mysteries of the church, no miracles,
fish turned into loaves of bread, water into wine,
whose mother had disappeared that year, as if by magic,
incantations whispered behind closed doors,
booze, breakdown, depression, electric shock,
voodoo words with no meaning, my own mystery
of grief, and each night in bed, newly armed with prayer,
I began to pray, Bring her back, send me a miracle,
I who would have risked the Devil and the snake
to get her back, would have endured nails
through my palms, like a sick person who runs
from doctor to doctor seeking a cure, I crossed myself,
then again and again the same.
Diane Lockward is the author of four poetry books, most recently The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement (2016). She is also the editor of The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop and the original The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop. Her poems have appeared in Harvard Review, Southern Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, American Life in Poetry, and The Writer’s Almanac.