Meat grease, flour and water, stirred till smooth —
it’s what my forebears ate, if they were lucky.

It’s what my mother ate, those hard dark years
she worked at a sawmill way out in the mountains,
learning to live on cigarettes and coffee

and cold biscuits raised from the dead by gravy.Gravy illustration by Daniel Wallace

Now and then she’d cook a little for us,
something to moisten and darken and quicken

the bowls of bland white rice or mashed potatoes
I’d shape into a cratered volcano
whose steaming lava overflow improved

everything it touched on my dinner plate.

Good gravy’s not an afterthought, a dressing,
a murky cloud masking a dish’s dull prospect:

whether poured from a Thanksgiving china boat
or a black iron skillet in Bloody Madison,
it’s the meal’s essence, where flesh meets spirit,

where fat becomes faith, where juice conveys grace

as red-eye, giblet, sausage, faithful sawmill —
whenever I think of those savory names

and the times I’ve poured or ladled or spooned
then mixed and dipped and sopped up their elixir,
not wanting to waste a single filling drop,

my mouth starts making its own thin gravy again.

By Michael McFee, a poet and professor of English and creative writing. Gravy appeared in McFee’s book That Was Oasis (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012). Illustration by Daniel Wallace, J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing, who is an author and illustrator.

Listen to Michael McFee talk with Southern Cultures journal about the connection between food and poetry.