Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pizza poetry is cheesy

American Life in Poetry: Column 302  (posted here with special permission)

In Iowa in the 1950’s, when we at last heard about pizza, my mother decided to make one for us. She rolled out bread dough, put catsup on it, and baked it. Voila! Pizza! And inexpensive, too. Here’s Grace Cavalieri, a poet and playwright who lives in Maryland, serving something similar and undoubtedly better.

Tomato Pies, 25 Cents
Tomato pies are what we called them, those days,
before Pizza came in,
at my Grandmother’s restaurant,
in Trenton New Jersey.
My grandfather is rolling meatballs
in the back. He studied to be a priest in Sicily but
saved his sister Maggie from marrying a bad guy
by coming to America.
Uncle Joey is rolling dough and spooning sauce.
Uncle Joey, is always scrubbed clean,
sobered up, in a white starched shirt, after
cops delivered him home just hours before.
The waitresses are helping
themselves to handfuls of cash out of the drawer,
playing the numbers with Moon Mullin
and Shad, sent in from Broad Street. 1942,
tomato pies with cheese, 25 cents.
With anchovies, large, 50 cents.
A whole dinner is 60 cents (before 6 pm).
How the soldiers, bussed in from Fort Dix,
would stand outside all the way down Warren Street,
waiting for this new taste treat,
young guys in uniform,
lined up and laughing, learning Italian,
before being shipped out to fight the last great war.

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 ©2010 by Grace Cavalieri from her most recent book of poetry, Sounds Like Something I Would Say, Goss 183 Casa Menendez, 2010. Reprinted by permission of Grace Cavalieri and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
How often do you read a poem about pizza and Trenton? Tomato pie (photo here) is not exactly like pizza and it is a Trentonian invention (I think I read that somewhere, but who knows if it is true.  Trenton is the capital of New Jersey and only about 40 min away from where we live. Tomato pie has thicker crust and you put the cheese on first, and then pour tomato sauce over it (someone needs to correct the Wikipedia article on this).  Upside down, kind of.  Thanks all Italians for pizza, we are having some tomorrow night.  This photo from Little Italy in 1900 is amazing, click on the photo and check out the details like the kids with napkins on their heads and all the guys' mustaches.

I love funky, gorgeous, easy, silly, beautiful poetry, and you get a lot of that if you subscribe via e-mail the series American Life in Poetry.  You can sign up for free and get one poem per week sent to you. The poems are selected by Ted Kooser, one of our favorite American poets.

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