'My father's seat empty, placemat bare'

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This is an elegant elegy to a father who has passed, captured in the rituals that families create as a way to remember, to honour and even to celebrate. The extra place set at table before a feast of great sensual and emotional power reflects how mourning touches the deepest parts of our self. NaBeela Washington’s poem asks the question: “Why Do We Set the Table?”. The poem is the answer.



by NaBeela Washington


At what temperature does blood

begin to boil? Thicken into a

roux, slip between bits of

basil, minced garlic,



Permeate chunks of spicy kielbasa,

bind a dash of salt, pepper, bubbles

roiling forth, then dissipating,

heat lowered to a hush;


Congeal from the shock of cool

clay dishes as a small mound

is delicately plated with a

large plastic spoon;


Spurt steam, burning both

nostrils, as we lean in to say

grace, my father’s seat empty,

placemat bare.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2022 by NaBeela Washington, 'Why Do We Set the Table?' from crazyhorse, Number 101, Spring 2022. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska


◄ Time Matters: Julie Anne Gilligan, Dempsey & Windle

Halloween is deadline day for National Poetry Competition ►


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