Shortnin’ Bread (take 1)

Posted: February 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

CapSlam was this past Saturday and I debuted a new poem. It went okay. I missed the second round by .1, but I had a few people specifically compliment me on my new poem, including a conversation I had outside with a friend who has been very touched by some of my poetry, in a way I wasn’t aware of. That meant a lot.

I am not concerned about scores as much as I used to be, but getting that reinforcement that my poetry still resonates with people is still important.

My writing process is fairly straight-forward, usually. I get an idea. I think about it for a while. It clicks. I write it. Done.

This poem did NOT come about that way and due to that, I have three versions of the poem in my note book. So I thought it would be fun for a change to show how a poem evolved.

CONTEXT: January, 2012

When we give instructions to slam judges we always tell them it is ‘half-content and half-performance’. Whether the judges actually balance things that way is totally up to them, but that is where we start. Sometimes it seems like judges care more about the sizzle than the steak. Other times judges give high marks to people reading off paper or whatever, which I generally don’t agree with, but it doesn’t matter. It is up to the judges.

A similar thing happens when I write poetry. Sometimes I start with the content. I have something I want to say and I have to figure out how to say it. Other times it starts with the style. I have an idea for a poem hook and need to figure out what to fill it in with.

For me, it is more often the former than the latter, but sometimes the hook comes first. That is the case with this poem. It did not start as a statement about people recovering from abuse. It started with a song.

Some of you may know Shortnin’ Bread as a children’s song (though it was originally a plantation song, if I understand correctly). That is how I first knew it. (Here is an example.)

Having said THAT, my inspiration was a little different. It is THIS version that I have on my iPod.

I have heard The Cramps referred to as Psychobilly music. Whatever. I just love it… but that is me.

Anyway, after listening to it one time, I found myself singing it… Cramps style.

Now singing on stage makes me VERY nervous. I actually used to do semi-professional stage musicals, but I was never exactly one of the stronger singers. But singing THIS way was a whole different beast. I started thinking about doing a poem that used the song, but I would sing the chorus, this one. Punk rock poetry.

So, I wrote the first version of the poem. Keep in mine that when I wrote it, I was planning to do the chorus is that, far-from-traditional manner.

Oh, the recipe in the final poem is real. If you were to get the baking instructions, you could make Shortnin’ Bread Cookies out of this recipe.

    Shortnin’ Bread (take 1)

“Mama’s little baby
Loves shortnin’, shortnin’,
Mama’s little baby
Loves shortnin’ bread”
Starting at the beginning,
Making and baking,
Life in a recipe.
Dropping half a cup of butter
Churned like a stomach.
Not a baby unless from a
Green mother.
But dark storm clouds
Circle tightly and the sun shining
Is only a legend.
Finding a second chance
To make a first depression
As ink-stained fingers
Search for blood-stained sheets
Streaking black and red
Lines like poetry of
Darkened cafes and
Deeper clichés.
Butter squeezing through fingers
Oozing infection as
Blue, green, brown, red eyes
Gaze without seeing
And the lies the mind tells
Are the most blinding.

But then the sugar – brown – quarter cup
And into every rain a little
Sweet must fall.
Crystallized and sliding in to
Fill the cracks where the
Gray holds sway.
Eye backs welded shut,
Self protection through
Double padlocked, home monitored
Insecurity with the
Alarm sounding and you’ve
Forgotten the deactivation key –
If you ever knew it –
Hidden like the Holy Grail.
But the sugar finds its way,
As a little light makes
The darkness darker
And the gray draws all
Colour in, sucking life
From the marrow of cracked
Earth bones – teeth marks
Scraping across your spine
Until even standing is pushing
And no sugar could taste as sweet.

“Mama’s little baby
Loves shortnin’ bread”
One cup of flour mixed in slowly,
Peeling back your skin
Revealing muscles and tendons,
Blood of gods and monsters
Streaming past teeth of stone.
Not human
Because human means
Electric probes under
Finger nails as nerve endings
Intentionally burned,
One at a time until charred
To a fine point
And slid into an oven,
450 degrees,
Turned right until facing left,
Muscles gone, organs
Rendered to coal and wet, sticky
Memories of feeling –
Except the heart,
Held safe under lock box
Knowing that one thing keeps
Us human.
Intellect is defined,
Physicality is transitory,
But love
Beats like a drum from the
Heart of the earth.
We stretch across the
World, torn open and bleeding
To the rhythm of bird song
And chalkboards
And plates shifting
And minds shifting
And hope that tomorrow
Will bring love.
“Mama’s little baby


That is pretty dark and while I really like some lines and imagery, it isn’t really ‘about’ anything.

There was stuff I wanted to keep but I needed more cohesion.


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