The Gospel of Barbecue

By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers b. 1967 Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

   for Alvester James

Long after it was
necessary, Uncle
Vess ate the leavings
off the hog, doused
them with vinegar sauce.
He ate chewy abominations.
Then came high pressure.
Then came the little pills.
Then came the doctor
who stole Vess’s second
sight, the predication
of pig’s blood every
fourth Sunday.
Then came the stillness
of barn earth, no more
trembling at his step.
Then came the end
of the rib, but before
his eyes clouded,
Uncle Vess wrote
down the gospel
of barbecue.

Chapter one:
Somebody got to die
with something at some
time or another.

Chapter two:
Don’t ever trust
white folk to cook
your meat until
it’s done to the bone.

Chapter three:
December is the best
time for hog killing.
The meat won’t
spoil as quick.
Screams and blood
freeze over before
they hit the air.

Chapter four, Verse one:
Great Grandma Mandy
used to say food
you was whipped
for tasted the best.

Chapter four, Verse two:
Old Master knew to lock
the ham bacon chops
away quick or the slaves
would rob him blind.
He knew a padlock
to the smokehouse
was best to prevent
stealing, but even the
sorriest of slaves would
risk a beating for a full
belly. So Christmas time
he give his nasty
leftovers to the well
behaved. The head ears
snout tail fatback
chitlins feet ribs balls.
He thought gratitude
made a good seasoning.

Chapter five:
Unclean means dirty
means filthy means
underwear worn too
long in summertime heat.
Perfectly good food
can’t be no sin.
Maybe the little
bit of meat on ribs
makes for lean eating.
Maybe the pink flesh
is tasteless until you add
onions garlic black
pepper tomatoes
soured apple cider
but survival ain’t never been
no crime against nature
or Maker. See, stay alive
in the meantime, laugh
a little harder. Go on
and gnaw that bone clean.

Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, “The Gospel of Barbecue” from The Gospel of Barbecue. Copyright © 2000 by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers. Reprinted by permission of The Kent State University Press.

Source: The Gospel of Barbecue (2000)

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Poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers b. 1967

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Activities, Eating & Drinking, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity

 Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Biography

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers was born in 1967 and grew up in Durham, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. Her work examines culture, religion, race, and family. Her first book, The Gospel of Barbecue (2000), won the Stan and Tom Wick poetry prize and was a 2001 Paterson Poetry prize finalist. Her collections also include Outlandish Blues (2003) and Red Clay Suite (2007), which received second prize in the Crab Orchard Review’s open . . .

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Poems by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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