a new poem from penny harter

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” ~ from an Irish headstone

I was so pleased to hear from New Jersey poet Penny Harter recently, who sent along a new food poem she had just written.

You may remember when we featured Penny’s “Moon-Seeking Soup,” “Your Grandmother’s Whisk,” and “One Bowl,” all referencing her late husband, esteemed poet, translator, and haiku scholar William J. Higginson. With these poems, we saw a poet moving through various stages of grief, as words facilitated emotional release and healing.

As those of us who have lost loved ones well know, one really never stops grieving. We instead find a way to live with loss. Penny’s poignant poem reminds us that as time passes, we move on, but the heart, ever tender and hopeful, never forgets.



Sitting in our regular booth in the Prestige Diner,
often on our way home from some poetry event
or other, you always ordered eggs over-easy
and whole wheat toast, but we could never find
those little plastic packets of orange marmalade
in the small square dish by the napkin holder.

Now that you’re dead, do you still love marmalade?

Before we knew you were sick, we were driving
through a spring landscape, branches blossoming
white, sweet and easy miles disappearing beneath
our quiet tires, when suddenly you said,
I can’t imagine all this going on without me!

How fluently the names forsythia, red maple
flowed from our tongues that day, the engine
of our life together well-tuned and fuel efficient.
How can it be eight years since you drove alone
over the horizon? Yet I, too, have moved on,
weathered lonely nights, betrayals of my own body.

There is still marmalade, the sticky jar on my shelf
almost empty. I spread it thickly on this morning’s
whole wheat toast, and its bitter sugar lingers
on my aging tongue. Dearest, wherever you are,
know the heart makes room for other loves, although
I love you still, and I wish you marmalade on toast.

~ Copyright © 2017 Penny Harter. All rights reserved.


Penny: I just wrote “Marmalade” over MLK weekend while at Peter Murphy’s annual Poetry and Prose Getaway. We were given a model poem as a prompt and it had the word ‘marmalade’ in it. Suddenly the diner memory surfaced, and I was off and running with it. Then I benefited from work-shopping it in a small critique group. Funny what one word can prompt if the grove is ripe!

The ‘bitter sugar’ of marmalade is just perfect for such a bittersweet memory. I like the intimate, conversational tone of this poem, the direct address to Bill as Penny recalls first the diner, and then that drive they took with the trees blossoming white, a pure, beautiful moment in time.

I love how food triggers fond memories, feeding our emotional hungers as nothing else can. Is there any particular food that makes you think about someone you’ve lost?


Award winning poet, author, teacher and editor Penny Harter has published over twenty poetry collections and chapbooks, and her work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies. She has won three poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, The Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the Poetry Society of America, & the William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award. Her most recent books are The Resonance Around Us; One Bowl ; Recycling Starlight ; The Night MarshLizard Light: Poems From the Earth; and Buried in the Sky.  With William J. Higginson, she co-authored The Haiku Handbook, a groundbreaking work considered to be the defining volume on the genre. Find out more at Penny’s Official Website and blog Tide Lines.




I have always admired Monsieur Random Integer Generator’s dapper form, brilliant mind, exquisite taste in all things edible, and uncanny intuition. Once again he has proven his meddle, selecting our giveaway winner via mental telepathy while on holiday in Concord, Massachusetts. Taking afternoon tea with the Alcott family, he thought of Tasha Tudor, her love for New England, and her inspiring 19th century life. After a bite of gingerbread and a good long sip of black tea, he closed his eyes, sighed, and uttered this name:



drum roll please



I told you he was telepathic!


Please send us your snail mail address so we can get the cookbook out to you pronto.

Thanks, everyone, for all the comments here and on Facebook. Good to know there are so many Tasha Tudor fans out there!


The beautiful and talented Robyn Hood Black is hosting the Roundup at Life on the Deckle Edge. Scamper over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

39 thoughts on “a new poem from penny harter

  1. Fun that Penny won the book, Jama. Serendipity rewards! I shared today about a food and crow memory, connecting a little to Penny’s poem, too. Her lovely poem reflects your own words: “but the heart, ever tender and hopeful, never forgets.” I wrote a post for you long ago about my grandmother’s biscuits, my biggest taste delight still. With Arvie, we celebrate various times a year for him by eating peach pie, his favorite. Thanks for a sweet post.


    1. Yes, I remember well your poem about your grandmother’s biscuits, Linda. Such a wonderful memory. Both your poem today and Penny’s touched on similar sentiments — uncanny coincidence — and both about breakfast foods. I love hearing about your family remembering Arvie with peach pie, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s just incredible the way a taste or a smell can instantly transport your mind to another time and place, sometimes decades ago and long forgotten. I grew up loving marmalade, but apparently my generation, the evil Millennials (I’m definitely on the older end of that generation) are killing marmalade because we prefer sweeter stuff! Not me – I’m doing my part to preserve this traditional preserve! 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read a similar article, Jane, and was shocked. Not like marmalade? Hard to believe. Naturally the resident Paddingtons are baffled and somewhat devastated. Oh, the folly of youth! I suspect marmalade is an acquired taste of those with more discerning and mature taste buds. So relieved and happy to hear you’re pro-marmalade!


  3. How can it be eight years since you drove alone
    over the horizon?


    As I look at the last four jars of the marmalade D. and I put up last year, that just makes me tear up. And yet, the world does go on. Bitter sugar is a wonderful descriptor – this is bittersweet in all the very best ways. Thanks and big hugs to Ms. Penny — and thanks for this, Jama.

    ::goes to console self with a spoonful of bitter sugar::


  4. I enjoyed the post, the poem and the comments…..that term, bittersweet, is a universal flavor, isn’t it? It’s only known after one has lost someone or something very dear. Thank you for this poem. It gives me ideas of foods that I can write from.


  5. Thank you for sharing Penny and Jama. Though I knew, still a lump grew in my throat as I read “the engine of our life together well-tuned and fuel efficient. How can it be eight years since you drove alone over the horizon?” In the last stanza, I was pulled by the subtle paradoxes — the aloneness and other loves and a love that continues — and then the perfectness of the oxymoron “bitter sugar.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a bittersweet poem! It makes me feel both sad and happy.

    And Jama, i do love the children’s book illustration banner pictures here and the posts about children’s books you put up on Facebook. What riches can be found in children’s books!


    1. Thanks, Violet. Glad you liked the poem and are enjoying the children’s illustrations over on FB — a good way to focus on “old friends” who can provide comfort in troubled times.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I keep reading and rereading this. And I think it’s the crumbs of whole wheat toast that are speaking of the loss, the loudest, for me. There’s just something about that plate of cold, crunchy crumbs and solitude…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Jama. My dad loves orange marmalade. I remember mornings of hunting on all the empty tables for packets of strawberry jam while he sat there, pleased to eat the marmalade, which was always in plentiful supply. I love so many parts of the poem, but especially the bitter sugar and the final wish. I wonder what the mentor poem was.


    1. Good for your Dad! He knows good food. 🙂 I imagine I did the same when I was little — looked for strawberry jam and avoided marmalade at all costs. But I’ve come full circle now, no doubt influenced in part by a certain bear from darkest Peru.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Tears here too. The initial quote from an Irish headstone is what turned my head first. I used that quote in the video I made when my father died. Penny, your poem is intimate and universal at the same time. So like marmalade, the punch behind this poem. Sweet, with a tang of bitters. Sending love.


  10. What a beautiful tribute. The last lines made me tear up. I love the assurance that the “heart makes room for other loves, although I love you still… .” Keeping the morning ritual of marmalade on toast surely is proof of that. Bittersweet, indeed!


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