Two Poems by Nora Robertson

Nora Robertson writes fiction, poetry, reviews, and essays, which have appeared in such publications as Redactions, Alimentum, Monkeybicycle, Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon’s Sesquicentennial Anthology, Plazm and Portland Monthly. She is a contributing editor to the New Oregon Arts & Letters webjournal and is the producer and writer of the New Oregon Interview Series. Her recipe poem, “How to Boil an Egg” (below), was nominated by Redactions for the 2007 Pushcart Prize. Her performance work has been showcased in Portland in the Enteractive Language Festival, the Public Works series curated by 2 Gyrlz Performative Art, Phase One: Words + Music; Performance Works Northwest’s Alembic Series in the five-woman show Housebound, and in Tiffany Lee Brown’s site-based installation Play Me at JAW 2008 at Portland Center Stage. She lives in Portland, Oregon and works for the Portland Public Schools.

© by Nora Robertson. All rights reserved.

Targhaz Interiors

1. First, you have to not think about a lot of things. The passage through the vaginal canal of the hen, the feminine parts clinging to and pushing forward the papery shell enclosing a thin membrane around the possibility of a future chicken. Maybe you had one of those experiences, like at a natural history museum or working at a diner, where you may have had the privilege to see the blood spot. Some people never recover. The taste always reminds them.

2. The kind of pan with the special core that conducts heat all over is best. Allow the tap to rush frigid and breathless. The water will need salt. Have you heard about the slaves of Targhaz who dug out chunks of grey-white salt in sub-Saharan holes, dry as their salt-block homes sucking water from their bones as they slept? Foremen only lasted two weeks. Faces rotated through like the burning yolk-yellow round of sun overhead. And what about that snake god of Ghana asking for lovely virgin bottoms, rigid and headless? I imagine I am that girl, pinioned, winner of a local beauty contest. While I’m waiting, it happens that blood drips down my inner thigh, red as hibiscus, spoiling the meat. There’s no warrior to rescue me. I have to rescue myself through biology.

3. Boil all this with the egg, seven minutes at least. If you’re hard-boiled, you’ll like it plain with a little salt and pepper. Sometimes, it’s easier that way. There are many ways to devil your egg, with blood-flecks of pimiento or the rendered fat of a hen. My grandmother used to make hundreds of these in the late 60’s for what they called entertaining. In a bone-white house with tilework shimmering milky light off the walls, she laid them out in rows on gleaming platters. My mother came into the kitchen once in the middle of the night and found her peeling eggs. Her body was bent over as she was sobbing. My mother remembers the feel of her shuddering when she rushed to hug her, the streams of salt water running down between their faces.

(previously published in Redactions)


1. Delicate, quivering, he watches TV with the sound turned down low. If he had antennae, they would be curved and lightly furred. The best insects for Yucatan tacos are jumiles with their strong mint flavor. The first step is to locate the jumiles, to slide your hands between the flat of rocks and pull out the thing you want, its tiny legs scrambling against your palm. The Maya would eat an honored sacrificed one afterwards, wasting nothing of the god-flesh. It’s not that they thought they could predict time, just inhabit it more fully.

2. When two of our good friends decided to sleep with another two of our good friends and the one who was my old girlhood pal like hips rotating out of the same socket bucked up the nerve to tell me about it, he already knew. You can keep the jumile alive almost indefinitely in the crevices of a leather bag as long as you feed it the right mixture of leaves and grass. The Maya would strip the god costume off the carcass and prepare the honored sacrificed one for the coals. They thought each moment had a personality and that by careful observation, you could know which way the wind was blowing, what was dangerous and safe.

3. When it is the right time, crush the jumiles in a stone mortar, volcanic. Grind in a little chile, salt, tomatoe. The mixture will become soupy, corpuscular, time to fleck it with green of chopped cilantro and punch it with lime. The summer I drove in circles across the hot body of the country like an arrow returning to its bow, my husband already knew why. But it’s easy to tell when you’re lying, he said. Maybe no one was ever paying attention before.

4. Ladle the jumile mixture across just-made tortillas sent from a cupped kneading hand onto the griddle to the plate. It goes well with strips of meat leftover from barbeque, with fermented maize. I had allowed someone else to run the flat of his hand across my back the same way I later ran it across my husband’s, like brushing fingertips across a harp, across the steely inner strings of a piano. Rib stacked above rib, shuddering with wet.

(previously published in Alimentum Journal)

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