The Poet Wrestles with Kale
Phoebe Reeves
I plant the tiny black seeds from last year’s best plants,  
pick the caterpillars off, watch the leaves uncurl their Fibonacci spiral  
loosely upward. Russian red, Scotch curled, lacinato, winterbor,  
cavolo nero, vates. All the greens to purples 
to whites of the tough, the tender,  
the summer bitter, the frost sweetened,  
the bug eaten. Sprawling, ornamental,  
compact, baby leaves pre-washed  
three times in plastic boxes, big  
rubber-banded bunches that fill half the refrigerator. Once the commonest  
green in Europe, it is now the purview of Whole Foods and hipsters,  
piles of massaged kale consumed by skinny jeans wearing vegans,  
side of silken tofu. Seven  
dollar snap top containers of Crispy Kale  
dropped in Paleo shopping carts. Only  
America could turn the cheapest,  
easiest to grow, oldest domesticated  
brassica into six ounce organic  
sea salt and cayenne speckled paycheck sink holes in too much plastic packaging.  
But I remember the first time my farm-share box had that menacing  
leafy flare spilling out the top, a wonderment, a curiosity to my tame  
taste buds for whom parsley and spinach  
and lettuce were the only green things  
eaten. And I may mock the talk show  
dietary kale worship, the miracle  
cure all claims, but I still want that dark  
green bitter bite in my life,

in my mouth, all the chlorophyll bursting in my veins. I want it  
steamed with garlic and sesame oil, sautéed with white beans and rosemary,  
baked in a casserole with béchamel and barley. I need the knowledge  
that this one thing, this kale-eating, is beyond 
reproach, is unequivocally good,  
like little else any of us does. I want my  
kale merit badge, the stamp of approval,  
the echo of hundreds of generations  
of mothers working all year to grow  
their gardens, to have the green mound under January’s snow,  
waiting there to feed the family long after all the showy  
vegetables of summer have come and gone. 
Phoebe Reeves earned her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College, and now teaches English at the University of Cincinnati’s Clermont College in rural southern Ohio, where she advises East Fork: An Online Journal of the Arts. Her chapbook The Lobes and Petals of the Inanimate was published by Pecan Grove Press in 2009. Her poems have recently appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Hayden’s Ferry ReviewDrunken Boat, failbetter, and Memorious.

more by Phoebe Reeves:
The Poet Licks Salt Off the Corners of Her Mouth
The Poet Longs for Summer Tomatoes