Tuesday, 28 June 2022

American Life in Poetry: Ode to Hunger

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Like music, one supposes, food, the memory of its procuring, preparing and consuming, leaves an indelible mark on us that is visceral and easily stirred.

We all must eat, and so we all know our own private litany of foods of our childhood.

Susan Nguyen calls her poem an “Ode to Hunger,” reminding us that the line between satiation and need is so thin, and sometimes sits at the heart of what many of us remember about the insecurities of our food supply.

Which is why her ode to hunger is a praise song to the food that defeats hunger: the simple humble foods of our sustenance.

Ode to Hunger
By Susan Nguyen

Praise SPAM fried with fish sauce and sugar
jackfruit, 25lbs. of it carved on newspaper, latex sap sticking fingers
Praise Kraft mac and cheese: small miracle of powdered cheddar
pork floss in the big Tupperware
Sara Lee Praise soy sauce and rice
Shrimp Cup Noodles, 3 minutes ‘til done
Praise the soft insides of baguettes
the first star fruit, pocketed and sliced
to Chef Boyardee
to durian, sweet scent of garbage
to pickled mustard greens, Lean Cuisine
pizza bagels after school
Praise Women, Infants, and Children
banana blossoms, heart thinly sliced in vinegar, drained of all color


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2021 by Susan Nguyen, “Ode to Hunger” from Dear Diaspora, (University of Nebraska Press, 2021). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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