The Poetry of Thanksgiving

For as long as I can remember we have gone to Aunt Debbie and Uncle Edward’s house for Thanksgiving.  They take all the furniture out of the first floor, rent tables, chairs and linens and we all have a wonderful time.

Some years they only have 50 people.  Some years they have 80.  Their kids are getting married so the in-laws come.  Relatives from out of state come.  Friends of the family come.  Some of you reading this will probably come.

No matter how many people, there’s always enough food and enough love for everyone.  One year we even had 3 Sumo wrestlers come.  I sat across from them and I’m here to tell you, they ate a lot! 

Speaking of eating a lot, my trainer, who I love and adore, comes every year.  He trains both my Uncle and I and he has no local family.  My trainer and I are on a food plan.  We get one “cheat meal” a week.  He uses his for Thursday night but I don’t.  The guy weighs 160 pounds and I swear he matched those Sumo wrestlers plate for plate!

After dinner, after dessert, after the obligatory family pictures, they clear out the living room and all the cousins sleep over on the floor.  Even the little ones who will never leave the security of their parent’s sight camp out and watch movies until late, late at night.  And you know why?  Because tomorrow morning Uncle Edward will make chocolate chip pancakes and toastites for everyone! 

When I was married my husband required that we had Thanksgiving at our house.  He claimed his small family was intimidated by the chaos at my Aunt and Uncle’s house.  He wanted to start a new tradition.  I can cook a turkey.  I can make yams.  I can make everything but gravy and that’s okay because Bristol Farms makes excellent gravy.  But it was small and sad and I missed everyone.  Those years we went to my Aunt and Uncle’s on Friday for leftovers.

Those few years when I had 16 people compared to my Aunt’s 50, and didn’t get to see anyone until Friday, my mom, my Aunt and I reunited with each other by leaving the men and kids home watching TV while we went to visit “Rachel the Jewelry Lady”.  I would buy beautiful earrings, that I would wear the following year, when I was turning a turkey breast-up all by myself and the ex was snoring on the couch.

Then I would have my cheat meal…turkey sandwich on egg bread with lettuce, mayonnaise and salt.  Done and done.

Well enough of that.  There is poetry in Thanksgiving.  Not only in the beauty of the dance of carving a turkey but in the conversations and gossip you hear around the table (and especially by the desserts!).  Always keep your poet’s ears open for that perfect word, that perfect line.

Do not write on cloth napkins, your hostess will get very upset.  This is the time to keep some paper close by.  And then tomorrow, while you’re waiting for the football to start and the drinks to kick in, start thinking about it.  Just because you get the idea at Thanksgiving doesn’t mean it has to be a Thanksgiving poem!

Tradition Begins

Fingers stained purple
she prepares to change the baby.
Pomegranate fingertips staining white skin
they look other-worldly.  And wrong.
She was just eating the seeds a moment ago
and now she has to change him.
Her tongue, popping through the arels,
feels the juice in her mouth in a way
that conjures similes of sparrows eating to
overfull, now clucks a soothing rhythm
for the squirming infant.
He’s not even hers little smiley boy,
little moon face, little where’s your mother –
in the kitchen drinking quickly a vodka shot
to make the day less abrasive, drinking another… 

Lips stained the same purple she kisses
the softness under his neck he is delighted
by her.  He would like to cultivate this new
mommy-fruit, sweet at the core and not a hint
of bitter rind about the outside. Her teeth
white against the berry of her lips,
they are like a light beaming the Morse Code
for “you are saved” through a foggy night.
This auntie, this cousin, this woman savior
he wants her, and 20 years or so from now
he will know what that means, to want.
And all his favorite women will wear
juicy lips and nails as he sits with each on the
back step, cracking pomegranates apart with
thumbs and fingers between splayed knees,
eating the seeds, juice running,
cement steps turning a rich purple like
some deep sea creature from prehistoric times,
rising to devour the winter fruit.

Willow Review, 2010

Tobi Cogswell is a two-time Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee.  Her job is to make one of the five cranberry relishes that are served each year.  It is the only time she brings the Cuisinart down from the cupboard and it is very worth it.  She is also the co-editor of San Pedro River Review (  She is always early, which is why she’s writing about Thanksgiving before Halloween!