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 hemorrhoids 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 flower petals on 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 melted
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 he waits
upstairs. She opens the tin, uses two fingers to slide
a dollop in.
Nickole Brown was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. Her first collection is Sister, and Fanny Says is forthcoming from BOA. Currently, she teaches at University of Arkansas–Little Rock and is the editor for the Marie Alexander Series in Prose Poetry.
“Crisco” originally appeared in Women’s Studies (TLR, Winter 2015).