Issue 4

Poetry

Allison Joseph

Aunt Jemima's Revenge


The Chicago-based Quaker Oats Co. has announced a recall of several varieties of Aunt Jemima's pancake and waffle mix for possible salmonella contamination.

—United Press Syndicate, March 5, 2008

Finally, she's got her revenge for decades
of obsequious headscarves and blackface
appropriation, flapjack slavery and erasure

from the histroy books. She's no longer
your slave, your anonymous kitchen help
minstrelling through another day with a

happy-face smile, a cakewalk grin. She
has you right where she wants you: feverish
and glassy-eyed, head in the toilet, pleading

for redemption from your own evil.
As a kid, you loved her plump black face
on that bright red box, not knowing she

meant anything other than those fluffy
sugary cakes from your mother's suburban
skillets, not knowing in vaudeville days,

a white woman with an Italian name
played her sooty-faced in burnt cork.
Later, you learned the first black Aunt

Jemima came straight off a Kentucky
plantation, hired to bring the World's Fair
1893's most startling invention: powdered

hotcakes in a box to a grateful, hungry
nation. But you never thought she'd turn
on you this way—after all, you knew

February was Black History Month, and you
helped your eleven month old scrawl
his "Why Martin Luther King Is My Hero"

essay. Why now, you moan, stomach
bucking like a darktown strutter, brain
swimming with unholy visions: Uncle Ben

brandishing Ginsu kinves, Charlie Chan
and Betty Crocker swinging nunchucks,
sticks going straight for your head.

Why not now, she replies, never too late
to learn what real food tastes like
coming back up, sardonic grin no longer

the grin of a woman's who's spent
a lifetime making your breakfast
without you ever once offering to make hers.