Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
The Glossy Bodies of Peppers

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Five years from the time I last saw him
I return for a visit mid-September
with Michelle and Christy, my two young daughters,
to find Nonno continues the practice

of drying vegetables and seeds on tarps of jute,
though, mostly, it's peppers and beans,
peppers and beans, and zucchini,
he grows, in profusion,
to dry and give away to the Filipino families down the road
who've traded us lettuce and rhubard
for brown eggs and wine since I was a child.

I point out to my girls the glossy bodies of peppers,
deepening yellow, ocher, orange, red,
because this is the first time they've seen
the home-grown produce of Salinas
their great grandfather, Ercole Angelo Bianco, is known for.

We've been living in married-student housing in Tampa,
shop only at Publix,
near the University of South Florida,
or A & P
where we find black-eyed peas for nine cents a can.

I kneel down near a crumpled burlap bag
strewn with the litters of green peppers and tomatoes,
tendril vines still attached,
unlike store-bought that's sprayed, kept from ripening,
wrapped in Saran wrap,
sticker priced, stripped of roots.

We have babies, my daughters squeal, cradling peppers
in their matching plaid cotton T-shirts
stretched out in front of them like aprons.

I tickle under their chins with a bleached blonde horsetail
picked from a sidewalk crack.

They giggle, scrunch up their shoulders,
and twirl out of reach,
dancing and squealing on the canvas of Ercole's peppers,
deepening yellow, ocher, orange, red.

Denise Calvetti Michaels is mother to three daughters, and grandmother to Holden, Calder, and Maizie. Denise teaches psychology and human relations at Cascadia Community College in Bothell, Washington. Her poems have appeared in Crosscurrents, Paterson Literary Review, Literary Mama, and King County Poetry on Buses. Her essay “Polenta” is included in The Milk of Almonds, Italian American Women on Food and Culture published by the Feminist Press, 2002. She was recently admitted into the Rainer Writing Workshop Low-Residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University.

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