The Flying Saucer Poetry Review, Winter 2023 (issue #2)

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17 | Poetry by Terry A. Garey, Winner of the SFPA Rhysling Award & SFPA Grand Master Award Candidate

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Terry for granting me permission to republish this wonderful poem, which was first published in Serve It Forth: Cooking With Anne McCaffrey by Anne McCaffrey (Aspect/Warner, 1996) and won the SFPA 1997 Rhysling Award in the Long Poems category. Thank you also to Terry’s husband Denny for his most cordial facilitation of my request.

At the time of this writing, Terry is on the ballot for the SFPA Grand Master Award, having been selected from a batch of enormously accomplished nominees to potentially receive that designation. It is quite the honor, with the SFPA having conferred the award only nine times — Ray Bradbury being one recipient of the title — in its 45-year history.

Spotting UFOs While Canning Tomatoes

(for Karen Schaffer, Laurie Winter, and Eleanor Arnason)

First, get your tomatoes
this is not always as easy as it seems
if you are going to go to all that trouble
they might as well be good ones:
red, full of flavor, perfectly ripe
not a lot of bruises
grow them yourself
or get them from a farmers’ market:
Big Boy, Big Girl, Roma, Royal Chico
Super Beefsteak, Early Pick, Lady Luck, Rutgers,
I’ve canned them all
just be sure they’re good

pick a cool evening to do this if you can
cool evenings and tomatoes rarely go together
think of your pioneer grandmothers
indian grandmothers
slave grandmothers
immigrant grandmothers,
putting up whole gardens for families of ten
and the hired hands

think of winter and canned tomatoes from the store
tasting of tin
purse your lips in disgust
roll up your sleeves
and get to work
(a friend taught me to do this
long ago
when I was young and poor but had plenty of tomatoes
she put my tomato destiny in my own hands
as well as my peach, pear, applesauce and jelly destiny)

make sure you have enough jars, lids, rings and time
read through the instructions
(you know what your memory is like)
then fire up the canner and go for it

it’s still the same hot water bath
taking too much room on the stove
a battered saucepan for scalding lids
bigger saucepan for scalding tomatoes
to make them easier to peel

then it’s peel and core, my girl, peel and core
chop those tomatoes down
slip off the skins, keep the water hot

paring knife nicks, seeds spurt out
acids sting my skin
adds to the general redness

mere mortals should clear the kitchen
order out pizza—if they want to eat
it’s like a marathon:
sweat, determination, endurance
going for the long distance—
you have to remember to drink water
so you don’t dehydrate

as I go along, lift hot jars, dump water
push in the tomatoes, wipe the rims
leave a space for expansion
try to guess how much is enough
when I tighten down the lids
as I go along
I philosophize
on the meaning of life
meditate on the smile of my grandmother
female bonding
female machisma
think about the farm women doing four times as much as this
every day all summer
and gasp, shake my head
I’ll never understand how they did it

while the first batch boils I get ready for the next
try to stockpile against time and weariness
shift from one sore foot to another
wad up the newspapers, wipe up flooding juice
save skins for the compost

I glance out the kitchen window and spot moving lights in the sky
an airplane, I think,
then as the steam rises around my head I realize
there are no flight patterns out my kitchen window
my hands clench, I think: UFOs, Flying Saucers,
aliens, green monsters
tentacled sentient creatures who need women to:
can tomatoes?
The heck with them. Let them can their own tomatoes.

the kitchen’s a mess
I’ve burned myself twice
used a band-aid
scalded the inside of my arm with steam
but there are the first seven jars
and one by one
goes the beat of my heart as they seal down

take that, alien invaders

I work on into the night—not talking much—
hit a plateau
where it seems I’ll never see the last bushel done
but finally
it’s over
last jar is sealed
I dump the five gallons of hot water down the drain
so the canner won’t rust
wipe down the counters
clean off the stove top
touch once more all the women
everywhere, even outerspace aliens,
who put something aside for winter

Terry A. Garey

Terry Garey’s father was in the Air Force, so she grew up variously in England, Germany, and a number of US states, mostly California. For the last forty years she’s lived in Minneapolis, and for most of that time worked for the University of Minnesota Libraries.

She’s won Rhysling Awards twice (for “Spotting UFOs…” (long) in 1997 and for “The Cat Star” (short) in 2013); edited poetry chapbooks (and one hardcover anthology, TIME FRAMES); and has published dozens of poems in small press magazines (and two in ASIMOV’S), plus short fiction in WEIRD TALES and TALES OF THE UNANTICIPATED, and a nonfiction book, THE JOY OF HOME WINEMAKING (Avon tp 1996, and still in print).

She now lives with another retired U of MN librarian and two non-retired cats in an old house full of books and magazines, poetry and otherwise.