As a continued effort to show our support for Southern culture and arts, White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails hosted its 2nd Annual Prize in Southern Poetry, accepting poem submissions from thirteen southern states. This year’s poems were judged by none other than the author of Bodies that Hum and esteemed Professor of English and Creative Writing at Georgia State University, Professor Beth Gylys. Among the poems, Professor Gylys selected, “For Our Mother”, by Sophia Gorgens of Atlanta, GA.
Sophia is a second-year medical student at Emory University. Sophia lived in Georgia from 2006-2011 and returned to the South in July of 2015. She earned her undergraduate degree in Biology and English with a minor in Creative Writing at Boston College. While at Boston College, Sophia received the Cushing Award in 2014 & 2015, as well as the Bishop Kelleher Award in 2015. She also held the position of Editor-in-Chief of Stylus, the literary and arts magazine of Boston College. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Styloid Process, the literary and arts magazine of Emory School of Medicine. Sophia has work published in Stylus, the Laughing Medusa, the Medical Humanities Journal of Boston College, the Styloid Process, the Tokyo Weekender, Pulse, and Eunoia Review. As for Sophia’s upcoming work, she will be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Mayday Magazine. She is honored to be the recipient of the 2nd Annual White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails’ Prize in Southern Poetry and is extremely grateful for the support.
Ladies & Gentlemen, Without Further Ado, White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails Proudly Presents
For Our Mother
Sophia Gorgens | Atlanta, GA
We pick the berries in Valdosta on a whim,
the streaks of strawberry fields drawing us in,
splashes of lingering blueberries. Birds kept out by mesh
puff their feathered breasts in loud indignation,
watch us from the thin wires of telephone poles.
Back home, my sister knows the recipe–old German heritage
and my tongue can hardly form the words. She has me dictate
each step to her in the original, grams instead of cups
and Zucher instead of sugar. The language of our mother.
In the quiet of the kitchen, her memory is between us,
how her hands would knead the dough on the countertop,
spinning egg yolk with butter into gold silk. Adding flour
carefully spoon by spoon. How she taught us the trick
with the rolling pin–be generous and quick. And how in America
she invented substitutions, like ricotta cheese for quark.
When my sister pulls the cheesecake out of the oven,
the top is lightly coppered, stretched tight as a drum.
It smells like our mother, but as we decorate it with bright berries,
we know we’ll tell our friends it’s something else–cheesecake
is too American and Kasekuchen too foreign. Meanwhile, as it cools
our oven sings its own language.
Narrative of “For Our Mother”
Professor Beth Gylys
This year’s tenderly elegiac winning poem deftly explores the ways food and cooking can become powerfully emblematic of our conception of family and home. The speaker’s deceased mother comes to life for her and her sister (and ultimately for us) as they first gather berries “on a whim” and use them to make Käsekuchen, a German dessert that she often served them and that she’d taught them how to make.
The intimate exchanges between the sisters as they re-create this old world version of cheesecake indicates the warm, connective tissue that binds them to each other and to the memory of their mother. As the poem unfolds, it strikes a seemingly effortless balance between simple narrative technique and compelling sonic and imagistic texture. Our speaker recalls her mother “spinning egg yolk with butter into gold silk,” and describes the top of the finished dessert as “lightly coppered, stretched tight as a drum,” striking sensual metaphors that bring the moment to life for us. The sentence fragment “The language of our mother.” falls almost half way through the poem, and in many ways encapsulates the force of the poem as a whole.
The language to which our speaker refers is not just German—her mother’s native tongue—it is the language of love as it was expressed in the mother’s attentive care, her wish both to nurture her family and to show them who she is and who she was through this dish. The poem ends with the simultaneously lovely and heart-breaking realization that though they can share the cake they’ve made, the sisters will have no real name for it because ultimately, their mother and their emotional connections to her are well beyond the parameters of language.
The White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails team congratulates Sophia Gorgens for her success and appreciates her contribution to this year’s Prize in Southern Poetry.