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Essay

Poetry by Courtney Hudak

by Grace Bonney

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Today is the sixth installment of our new creative writing series, curated by Ashley C. Ford. Today’s poems were written by Courtney Hudak.

Some of What I’ve Learned Over Thirteen Years of Wednesday Dinners at My Place

2003
Brendan says he wants to stop drinking.
I tell him to come on by: I want to start eating.
A small crowd gathers around my small table
with our small offerings: bread, wine, salt, smoke.
None of us knows how to cook. It’s a start.

2006.
After another broken heart, the Chef teaches me to make tacos.
Avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, lime. Tortillas, cheeses, chiles and
we carry our bags, overflowing, home. Salsa, she says, is simple.
Sweet fruit against bitter onion. Sour lime with chile’s spice and
much more salt than you realize.

2009.
I take my illegitimate child to Ireland. We invite foreigners
and locals to our damp rental for dinner. Potatoes
with an indigenous lobster my daughter names Sparky.
Someone I thought I knew threw Sparky’s carcass, still meaty,
away. I think about the lost meat for days.

2012.
I marry a quiet man from the midwest because
he brings more food than we need. With him (I know)
I will never run out. He brings what I need and I learn to cook
with cumin and tamarind. And then I learn to cook again, with apples and
honey. And then I learn again, with roses and saffron.

2015.
My illegitimate legitimate child is growing. This week she wants
to feed our friends with something from Shiro’s book.
There’s a whole section on smelt, she tells me, so I visit
Mutual Fish, where my favorite monger shows me how
to clean and gut them. I go home to show my girl. !
People arrive for dinner. My daughter prepares perfect plates
for each person, one by one. A new friend sits
at our table and begins, gently, to weep.
Sometimes, he says, eating makes me cry.

Read on for two more poems from Courtney after the jump…

I Row Against

At a place by the Plazoleta de Cortazar,
where (he remembers) the pizza once was good,
I am yelling at my friend.
A young man turns to stare.

Beneath my breath I mutter,
mi amigo es sordo! but
that’s not the only reason I shout.

Though it’s true, mi amigo no me oye,
mi amigo has also been ranting
long and wrong about some old poet

y no me gusta. Like this piss-poor pizza –
dry dough, fake cheese, weak sauce –
I think my old friend misremembers

the old-school old boy who shed
wives and kids whenever they claimed
their own places in his space.

It’s no use lying about that now.
When my friend says I’m stupid
I begin to shout. Por que
!
mi amigo no escucha y
because I have just this life
and midway through it I am weary.

Far from home and surrounded
by someone else’s language,
I search words for sustenance.

This morning, from the dead, Orozco told me:
Little one, you’re born again.
You ought to go on growing…

Olga said not all the bread that’s offered is meant for me.
Olga said sometimes we are surrounded by the deaf and so
I will shout I will.

Teaching My Brother to Eat

Where we’re from, there wasn’t much
in the way of sustenance.
Chocolate cherries were secreted in bedroom drawers
while kitchen cabinets remained bare.
Laden with ashtrays and bills,
our table had no room for food.

We ate what we could,
on the fly: Little Debbie’s Oatmeal Pies;
plastic-wrapped cheese; free lunches from school.
Women from church brought brown bags of charity,
and we ate grapes from coffee mugs,
marveling at the fruit and our good fortune.

Somehow, we grew. Much later,
I met my brother again.
I was the fat one; he the lean.
My brother wondered aloud
what he’d look like with
some weight. He had been thin so long.
It was hard to imagine him full.

He preferred fast food now,
eaten sweet and alone after a smoke,
whereas I had a developed a habit of taking time
to cultivate a starter and let the leaven rise.
I offered my brother my bread.

He eats it. He asks for more. He asks for butter. He asks for honey.

We sat across a bare secondhand table
eating from thrift store plates.
He asked me not to watch him eat.
I closed my eyes and heard
spoon against glass jar,
reaching for more honey.

I tried not to let him see me smile.
This went on for years.

My brother’s emaciation faded
only stubbornly, and slow.
He developed love for bread and honey.
Teaching him to eat,
I learned to wait, and wait.

About Courtney: Courtney Hudak is a poet, attorney, third-generation single mother, and troublemaker. Her writing is eclectic and so are the places she’s been published, which include Swivel Magazine, King County Metro’s Poetry on Buses program, and the forthcoming anthology, Ghosts of Seattle Past. She lives in Seattle with her family.

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Comments

  • I loved your poetry. I loved it so much I continued reading until I read down to the part that said King County and got a shock! Another Seattleite! Your story about law school hit home, I am finishing my student teaching in a north end elementary school, which is unpaid and requires that you do not work at the same time. I too had to take out a loan to cover this last part of my schooling and certification. April is poetry month at my school- I will share Some of What I have Learned… with my 5th graders. Thank you!

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