Poetry: Marianne Szlyk

Marianne Szlyk
(Credit: Photographed by Matthew Bailey)
Lunch Time, Summer 1970

Three years past someone else’s summer 
of love, smoky sunlight squeezes
past metal blinds.  I am dancing
to no music but dust motes that twirl.

At 12:00 sharp, my grandmother is making
deviled ham sandwiches on Roman Meal,
not my mother’s dry Hollywood Dark.
Here the radio is silent.  The TV is off.

Humming, Grandma spoons out piccalilli 
relish and Hellman’s Mayonnaise
into the small bowl of deviled ham.
As I twirl, she tells me stories

about my mother as a little girl
who went to dancing school 
and was a butterfly at the spring recital.
I sit at our toy table and look out

the window at the lilac bush
that, in summer, hides rusted hulks 
to imagine butterflies dancing,
becoming girls in this city.

Ritz Cracker Pie

One Sunday afternoon in 1960 my father saved us from Aunt Moo’s mock-apple pie. Made with margarine, Realemon juice, cinnamon, sugar, and Ritz crackers, served with Cracker Barrel cheese, it wasn’t a bad pie.  It was probably a good pie.  It was even homemade.  It just wasn’t an apple pie.

Sixty-two years later, I find it hard to believe that the Victory Supermarket on North Main Street had run out of apples.  This fruit was grown all over New England before ranches, split-levels, malls, and McMansions took over.  Perhaps the pie was a trick to test my father, the young dentist with a crewcut and a convertible.  Or the pie was my aunt’s specialty, served at canasta parties and picnics by the lake, the mid-century equivalent of your kiwi cheesecake or my coffee brownies made from a mix. Or a sign that my father would be invited to the next picnic on the shores of Lake Whalom.

If Dad hadn’t discerned that the pie’s apples were really crackers fresh from the box, would Aunt Moo have brought the pie every blessed Thanksgiving throughout the Seventies?  I wince, picturing my brother and my mother picking at their slices of pie while Dad and I hide ours in French vanilla ice cream from Friendly’s.  We might have had more Thanksgivings with his side of the family where my aunt Irene served the mashed potatoes made with skim milk from a gigantic aluminum pot and my uncle’s girlfriend brought key lime pie and, for the younger adults, grasshopper pie.

Would I even be here if Dad had not passed the test?

In Praise of Molded Salad

In wartime, canned olives and sweet pickles 
jitterbugged through the cherry red moonlight.  
Girls played Crazy Eights while praying for
boyfriends and brothers who fought overseas.

Years later thin cucumbers floated in
the zero-gravity of sweet lemon 
Jell-O cut with white vinegar and posed
on frills of lettuce on a gilt-edged plate.

Until the year when the Berlin Wall fell,
Gram brought molded salad each Thanksgiving.
The salad might have been served on a plate
once or twice, but mainly I remember

the faded Tupperware mold, container
for the lime-green or sometimes lemon pond
where carrot curls, chopped celery and canned
mandarins floated past pineapple shreds.

My brother called this dish “moldy salad,”
but we all loved its light sweetness even
when I lived on brown rice in Boston and 
Mom was on the Atkins Diet again.

Gram’s molded salad was the home where fruits,
vegetables, and sweet Jell-O all lived
in harmony even when we did not.

Bio: Marianne Szlyk is a professor of English and Reading at Montgomery College. Her poems have appeared in of/with, MacQueen's Quinterly, Setu, Verse-Virtual, Sequoyah Cherokee River Journal, Bourgeon, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, the Sligo Journal, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, and Mad Swirl as well as a few anthologies such as The Forgotten River and Resurrection of a Sunflower. Her books On the Other Side of the Window and Poetry en Plein Air are available from Amazon and Bookshop.  She is working on a new chapbook as well.  In addition, she has led workshops where poets write tributes to both survivors of COVID-19 and those whom we have lost.

1 comment :

  1. I was experiencing a mild crises when I read these poems at first...the words just raced by me. I remembered deviled ham because that is what I was having at lunch...and some of the other dishes. But I think it was the good wishes from Marianne ...read some poetry, and did you get the food part? Maybe that will help! Yup, I did as of today get the food part, the lime pie, the moldy salad with curly cue carrot and the rice dish...and I certainly am comforted to read and even cook some of these ideas. Yes, it helps. Crises almost over!


We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।