Women in the kitchen

November 28, 2011

by Kanya D’Almeida

Women in the kitchen know
That their work is only beginning.
They know that laughing is better
Than crying, but the onions won’t let them alone.

When women in the kitchen chop garlic
They remember teeth pulled from their mouths
And when they crush pepper corns
They smell the dust of ground up ancestors
In the sharp black powder.

With ladies’ fingers and cabbage hearts
On their cutting boards
Women in the kitchen cook for friends
Who give birth in barbed wire tents in Port-au-Prince,
Who tie umbilical cords with their own hair in Kinshasa,
Who breast-feed bullet-filled babies in Jaffna,
For women with stumps for arms,
Who can’t cook and have no kitchen.

Women in the kitchen, with their mortars and pestles
Know their bodies are strung up on posters
In conferences rooms, where glittering donors
Check boxes for 10, 50 and 100
For school supplies and micro loans;
But women in the kitchen would teach their babies to write in the sand
And live without debt
If only the world would let them.

Men slicing into steak at third world fund raisers
Think women in the kitchen are helpless
Must be saved from poverty
And curable diseases.
Little do they know
That black women wielding silver butcher knives
In their warm kitchens
Don’t need salvation–
Their chopping, stirring, pounding arms
Are mightier than linen napkins and bank accounts.
And if they could
They’d chop more than chicken.
And someday soon, they might.

Women in the kitchen
Divide their work evenly
One for the soup, one for the bread
Two for the meat.
They wash the dirt off vegetables
And get busy dicing.

When the rice boils, women in the kitchen give thanks
For plenty. For enough. For no more. For scarcely anything.
For threadbare friends
And eager daughters.

Women in the kitchen throw red peppers into hot oil
And remember armies of men
Who came like hot oil in the red pepper night,
Burning everything they touched.
And as chilies sizzle in the pan
Women in the kitchen wonder:
Whether they will forgive,
Or fry their enemies in red-hot chili oil?

Women in the kitchen have no bowls or forks
Their fingers scoop spice from banana leaves
Into laughing mouths.
Women in the kitchen
Squatting on the floor
Planning for tomorrow
Wiping onion-tears from soft cheeks
Know that life is hard as a stone.

Because women in the kitchen have no beds
They’re not afraid to lie on the earth,
Because they have no plates
They’re not afraid of broken china,
They have no wine
So do not fear sobriety,
They have no cakes
So do not fear bitterness
They have no books
So do not fear the burning.
Because they have no things, they do not fear thieves.

But women in the kitchen know
The delights of a full belly
Of a small piece of fried fish, freshly caught and salted
Of extra beans, put away for tomorrow
Of well-deserved sleep
And pleasant dreams.