Mom and Dad Try to Get the Hang of the Middle Class, Part 1

by Juliana Gray

Mom grew up in town, her father a salesman
of small appliances. They ate chicken
and dumplings, doily-thin hamburgers, potatoes,

potatoes, potatoes. The Army had polished off
a little of Dad’s country, and when they married,
he introduced her to asparagus and schnitzel.

Their favorite side was buttered white rice,
which Dad had been forbidden as a child
because his mother, when she was a girl, sick

with yellow fever, was fed only water
in which rice had been boiled, and afterwards
could not endure the smell. Mom and Dad

had aspirations. They took meticulous notes
during PBS cooking shows.
It was the 1980s, so they tossed

sun-dried tomatoes in everything.
They learned to say “pasta,” not “spaghetti.”
Mom made eggrolls filled with ground beef.

They dressed up Hamburger Helper with canned mushrooms,
stirred frozen peas into Rice-A-Roni
and called it pilaf. Far back in the pantry,

a cache of Spam that Dad, every few months,
would slice and fry for himself, spattering
the stove with grease. When he was away, Mom

would make biscuits in Grandmother’s iron skillet
and heat a can of pinto beans she ate
with a spoon, savoring the taste of dirt.


Juliana Gray’s third poetry collection, Honeymoon Palsy, was published by Measure Press in 2017. Recent poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from The Chattahoochee Review, NELLE, The Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. An Alabama native, Juliana lives in western New York and teaches at Alfred University.