A brand in a can and, later, conveniently in sticks, but also a word—crisco—
applying to any shortening, any oil teased from its natural state to stay solid
at room temp. Used with a peppering of coffee grounds to fry chicken,
or with ice water to roll flat a pie crust, or in her cornbread, made the only right way:
with buttermilk, in a skillet cured and cast iron.
Crisco, the first shortening made from plants, mostly cottonseed up from delta
labor and heat, the first shortening entirely free of slaughter, the hog she remembered
hung upside-down, the six-inch stick knife that made an animal
flesh, the come-along jack that hoisted what was now carcass
into a cauldron of boiling water and lye, the bell scraper that teased a body from
its own bristle, teased it right out of its own skin.
A Depression-Era cure-all—for ashy elbows, for rusty skates, for squeaky hinges and cracked
heels and cuticles and psoriasis and bicycle chains.
Back then, there wasn’t much Mama could afford, so her mama bought Crisco for most
anything that needed attention, a bit of moisture, a dab of grease.
Crisco, because Fanny says you have to wear your husband out, and sometimes
you might be counting the petals on rose wallpaper, but you best pretend,
Just put a little shortening up there, she said,
he’ll never know the difference.
Monroe said to her once: Fanny, what do you think a man
thinks about all day? Beans and cornbread?
For her, Crisco popped and pocked tiny round burns
down both arms, Crisco sizzled and charred
and started a full-on grease fire only
salt could put out.
Crisco clogged her pores and dulled the walls;
Crisco slowly filled the delicate tubes leading in and out of
But for now, say it is evening, the kids are outside playing
kick the can, the floor mopped, the dishes done,
she is bone-tired, ankles swollen, but she opens
the tin, uses two fingers to slide a dollop in.