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[with 3 poems by Melinda Thomsen]

How about you cream the butter and sugar while I chop the pecans? At 93 Mom does not need to be wielding the big chef’s knife. Last week I bought vanilla, nuts, butter, and a couple of new cookie sheets at Harris Teeter while shopping with Dad. This morning I pre-measured the sugar and flour into ziplocks before I left the house. This afternoon Mom woke up early from her nap, so excited to be baking cookies for Thanksgiving.

Whenever we visited Nana while I was growing up, we kids (and Dad, too) couldn’t wait to visit the little village of tins that would have sprung up like magic on her kitchen counter. Homemade fudge, humdingers, Moravian Christmas cookies. And there were always, there had to be, nutty fingers. When I got married she bequeathed me the recipe and that’s how I labeled the index card – Nana’s Nutty Fingers.

Nana’s only daughter – my Mom – hasn’t made nutty fingers since any of us can remember. Last night I printed a copy of the recipe and scribbled out my fraction calculations to double it. When I walk into Mom’s kitchen today, though, she already has the recipe laid out on the counter.

The original – centered on page 53 of What’s Cooking?, compiled by the Winston-Salem Woman’s Club in 1948, “Pecan Fingers” contributed by Ellen Cooke, alias Nana. It’s identical to the recipe we’ve used all these years as long as you realize that 4X sugar means granulated.

O Baby, in about an hour their home is smelling good, and all the laughs and stories we share during the making are even more delicious. Good job, Mom, high five. Dad pronounces these the best nutty fingers he’s ever tasted and the powdered sugar down his sweater affirms. When granddaughter Claire arrives from Maine for Thanksgiving, there just might be a couple left for her.

Maybe.

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Sweet Potato Casserole

One poet says she waits to hear what
the words are trying to say. Meanwhile,

a documentary shows fifty pounds of yams,
gathered in one plastic basket, heaved up

to a migrant from Chihuahua, standing
in a school bus. The bus trudges through

the turned fields of North Carolina, a taxi
with an open top and wooden slats for sides

reaping filled baskets. Another poet hopes
the best wind finds me ready to wrestle it

to the page. As farm workers examine
and measure, sweet potatoes lift skyward.

Thousands of roots piled up in moving crates,
all hand gathered, are waiting for words.

Gently but quickly, these men harvest,
and I keep searching for nouns so small

but will swell in the mind to voice the labor
and sweat of my Thanksgiving dinner.

A friend tells me, if you think one person
can’t make a change, you’ve never been in bed

with a mosquito. Advice swirls like gnats
while I peel yams, whose discarded skins,

the width of fingers, almost rise as hands
to choke my verbs. Still, I dot mashed sweet

potatoes with mini marshmallows before
placing the heavy pan in a 375 degree oven.

Melinda Thomsen

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Melinda Thomsen’s book Armature lives in the personal moments that create each day of our lives. The title refers to the skeletal framework a sculptor uses to support her clay model. She adds form and matter to shape the work into three dimensions. The book’s framework includes descriptions of four castings of Degas’ Dancer Looking at the Sole of Her Right Foot; the poems throughout add shape and form through their close observation and grounded presence within the many places they dwell.

Armature, © 2021 Melinda Thomsen, Hermit Feathers Press, Clemmons, North Carolina

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Old Tractor Equipment

Their armature emerges from
a forging of farm equipment:
rasps, chains, gears, and pipes.

Metal tractor parts fashioned
a horse whose neck
and ligaments are strong

enough to face the wind
with a mane of almost twenty
flat files billowing in the breeze.

We all move this way, right?
After years of pulling it
together in cut and paste jobs

of bad or non choices,
even if our hearts resemble
rusted tractor ball bearings,

we construct and forge ourselves
from a hodgepodge of muzzles
and flanks in to running mares,

stalky goats, or bold stallions.
Walk over to us, and see our
sprocket nut nostrils flare.

Look at these haunches
made of 20th century shovels
and lawnmower parts.

A trip of goats and a pigpen
of swine have propane
tank bellies, pulley hooks

for horns, and porcine
snouts are marked
by stainless steel forks.

Nearby, bric-a-brac horses
cast galloping shadows
as we roam and graze.

Melinda Thomsen

[Melinda notes: Jonathan Bowling is a sculptor based in Greenville, NC. His field of sculptures is on the corner of Dickinson and Atlantic Avenues.]

 

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Whirligig Park in Wilson, NC

I come from a nearby
town whose herons
sport feathers of golf club

handles and clipper beaks
flash shadows on the walls.
But here, looking up at all

these odd parts forged
into metal marionettes
with no strings or motor,

I see thy leave it to wind.
A cloud-laden morning
moves in and fifty feet

above, a front propeller
turns and two farmers
quickly cut a metal log.

Their saw’s teeth drag across
the tree as if their first stroke,
and behind them, a dog sits

whose tail wags at each cut.
It seems the earth begs us
to twirl, even if our spirits

have been sapped to rust,
even if our most dead
selves dwell in squeaking.

Melinda Thomsen

[Besides Wilson’s Whirligig Park, Vollis Simpson’s kinetic art is also on permanent display at the North Carolina Museum of Art.]

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Postscript: My children and their kids have always called my Mom Grandmommy. My brother’s three girls, however, know their grandmother as Nana. Of course. The nutty finger legacy lives on.

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2016-10-17b Doughton Park Tree

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