Video Cuisine

By Maxine W. Kumin 1925–2014
They are weighing the babies again on color television.
They are hanging these small bags of bones up in canvas slings   
to determine which ones will receive the dried-milk mush,   
the concentrate made out of ground-up trash fish.

For years we have watched them, back-lit by the desert,   
these miles of dusty hands holding out goatskins or cups,   
their animals dead or dying of rinderpest,
and after the credits come up I continue to sit

through Dinner with Julia, where, in a French fish   
poacher big enough for a small brown baby, an   
Alaska salmon simmers in a court bouillon.
For a first course, steak tartare to awaken the palate.

With it Julia suggests a zinfandel. This scene   
has a polite, a touristy flavor to it,
and I let it play. But somewhere Oxfam goes on   
spooning gluey gruel between the parched lips

of potbellied children, the ones who perhaps can be saved   
from kwashiorkor—an ancient Ghanaian word—
though with probable lowered IQs, the voiceover explains,   
caused by protein deficiencies linked to the drought

and the drought has grown worse with the gradual increase in herds
overgrazing the thin forage grasses of the Sahel.
This, says the voice, can be laid to the natural greed
of the nomad deceived by technicians digging new wells

which means (a slow pan of the sand) that the water table has dropped.
And now to Julia’s table is borne the resplendent fish.   
Always the camera is angled so that the guests look up.   
Among them I glimpse that sly Dean, Jonathan Swift.

After the credits come up I continue to sit
with those who are starving to death in a distant nation   
squatting, back-lit by the desert, hands out, in my head
and the Dublin Dean squats there too, observing the population

that waits for too little dried milk, white rice, trash fish.   
Always the camera is angled so they look up
while their babies are weighed in slings on color television,   
look into our living rooms and the shaded rooms we sleep in.

Maxine Kumin, "Video Cuisine" from Selected Poems 1960-1990. Copyright © 1970 by Maxine Kumin. Used by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: The Long Approach (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1985)

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Poet Maxine W. Kumin 1925–2014

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Health & Illness, History & Politics, Eating & Drinking, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, The Body, Living, Activities, Nature

 Maxine W. Kumin

Biography

An enduring presence in American poetry, Maxine Kumin’s career spanned over half a century. She was the recipient of prestigious awards such as the Pulitzer Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award. She was the poetry consultant for the Library of Congress in 1981-1982, and taught at many of the country’s most prestigious universities, including MIT, Princeton, and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Health & Illness, History & Politics, Eating & Drinking, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, The Body, Living, Activities, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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