An Italian heart is an artichoke,prickly-petaled,
not inviting to eat. Every leaf ends in a little nail,
a claw that forces you to navigate your way
to tenderness, discover a taste that lingers,
on your tongue and fingertips, embedded
in the mushrooms, rice, chicken simmered with it.
A platter of artichokes, stuffed and drizzled with lemon
and olive oil, says it’s Christmas, Easter, or New Year’s,
because even a thistle,with enough garlic
and breadcrumbs, can be set out for a feast.
If the cook hasn’t clipped the leaves of their
thorns,peel them off carefully and run the inner
end over your teeth to scrape off the green flesh.
The deeper you go, the more tender, until nearly
at the center where you find that coarse-haired
layer, discouraging entry. Aunt Angelina
or Uncle Tony will show how to get there,
one leaf at a time. Or you could skip the whole
globe and fuss over crab legs, lobsters, tasty brains
inside chicken heads, picked with a sewing needle,
because it is your fate to eat of the stranger
varieties of comestibles, like that cousin cardoon,
batter fried—greasy,salty, and good for
your blood. These exotics say, Eat me!
and you step up bravely to tackle the tedious task
of eating the softest flesh of the one true heart.
Under the table, the dogs whisper to children
who can hear,licking their delicious fingers,
showing their teeth.Secrets clamor to be held,
never revealed to grownups.Raise your glass.
to the salvation of every Italian heart.
A’salute cent’anni!

Based on Twenty Little Poetry Projects by Jim Simmerman.


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