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Southern-Fried Mama
Alarie Tennille


At age six or so, my world expanded
to the kitchens of friends. Chef Boyardee
spaghetti that looked like red worms
we used for fishing. Macaroni
and cheese — more worms swimming
in orange water. Iced tea soured
by saccharine. Because I was Mama's
Daughter, I politely ate what was served.

Although she worked full time, Mama
was a queen of Southern cuisine.
Hail to Duke's mayo, bacon drippings,
Smithfield ham, and Crisco!

How could tiny Mama wield a massive
cast iron skillet like she did a fly swatter?
Or stay tiny, for that matter? After fixing
supper, she'd insist the back was her favorite
piece of fried chicken, while the rest of us
gorged on all we could eat. 

Since it would be years before I was tall
enough to tend a skillet of popping
oil, she did all the work. I set the table
and kept her company. It was time
for our girl talks.

I was proud when she asked me
to shape the salmon cakes,
because my tiny hands made them
extra crispy.

No wonder cooking is the only
housework I don't hate. I cook
lighter and more exotic meals
than Mama, but I often think of her
as I stir. Sure wish I could make
her chicken and dumplings.

© by Alarie Tennille
Used with the author's permission.



Alarie Tennille was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia. A Phi Beta Kappa, she graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class that admitted women. Alarie and her husband, graphic artist Chris Purcell, live in Kansas City, Missouri, where she serves on the emeritus board of The Writers Place. Alarie believes her writing skills were born from her parents’ knack for storytelling–long, meandering tales she asked to hear again and again. “There was usually dance music in the background,” she says, “the sounds of cicadas, and the clink of ice in glasses of sweet tea. Weekends brought rolling surf, laughing gulls, and the calliopes of amusement park rides.” Alarie’s third and most recent poetry collection is Three A.M. at the Museum. She was honored to receive a 2020 Fantastic Ekphrastic Award from The Ekphrastic Review. Learn more about her at




Post New Comment:
Love the title, and the photo!
Posted 04/29/2020 04:46 PM
Lori Levy:
Beautiful tribute to your mother.
Posted 04/28/2020 03:35 PM
Oooh! Now I really miss my great-grandmother�she made the most amazing butter noodles . . . thank you for the memories!
Posted 04/28/2020 02:00 PM
Now I have no excuse for not using that heavy cast-iron skillet! Maybe it would be a good isolation workout! Vivid poem. Now I'm hungry!
Posted 04/28/2020 12:15 PM
Your mom reminds me of my aunts--my mom didn't like to cook. I make a god salmon patty in an iron skillet that belonged to my grandma.
Posted 04/28/2020 10:35 AM
Jean Colonomos-1:
Cooking together is the being of women'd beings together, the kitchen a boundless, 'getting-to-know-you,' place. Thank you for reminding me.
Posted 04/28/2020 10:29 AM
I have been sheltering in the kitchen.
Posted 04/28/2020 09:12 AM
I love this poem. Makes me wish I had a daughter!
Posted 04/28/2020 09:11 AM
michael escoubas:
My mother was a good cook too, but an even better encourager--when I complained I couldn't find anything to do she made me read the encyclopedia--which let me to become a poet. I've been dining at that table ever since!!
Posted 04/28/2020 08:52 AM
Larry Schug:
Of course, this poem leads me to thoughts of my mother-the Duchess of Dumplings (to feed off "queen of southern cuisine". Oh, but we poets are such little sneak thieves! there are so many great images in this poem, such as "wield a massive cast iron skillet like she did a fly swatter" and more. Good work, as always, Alarie. p.s. Even your name has a poetic ring to it!
Posted 04/28/2020 08:41 AM

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