Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

“Turnips on the Table”

Rita Sims Quillen is the author of three poetry collections—The Mad Farmer’s Wife, Counting the Sums, and Her Secret Dream—as well as a novel, Hiding Ezra, and a book of essays, Looking for Native Ground: Contemporary Appalachian Poetry. A former associate professor at Northeast State Community College in Blountville, Tennessee, she lives and farms in southwest Virginia.

Turnips on the Table

How odd when a vegetable and person merge
becoming one in your mind and mouth.
My grandmother loved those little roots.
Their stealthy sting hit your tongue
like an angry truth.
Put all the butter and sugar you want—
their heat cannot be denied.
No wonder they’re shaped like tears.

They owned a little grocery store,
could eat anything they wanted
but hardscrabble childhood hangs on you,
a bell that can’t be unrung.
Turnips on the table:
A reminder of a hard battle won,
a daily bitter tear on the tongue.