“The Flavors of Red” & Other Poems * Sharon Whitehill

The Flavors of Red

It arrives with the salt taste of blood,
the hot-pepper burn on the tongue,

strikes the ear with the force of a shouted command
or the pitch of a scream,

and remains like the lingering mark of a slap,
the invisible glow of an unwanted touch.

Drink your wine in a room of this hue
to discover, while sweet music plays,

how much more fruity its flavor.
Picture the “hectic” leaves of one poem,

the “fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls” of another
to conjure the smell of the season.

Increase your tips or your hitchhiking luck
in this bright dress, that vibrant shirt,

and impress everyone with your status and power
by wearing a tie that conveys it

the same way a mandrill enhances itself
with its memorable bottom and snout.


No Accounting for Tastebuds
            for Kay           

I seek whatever is spicy or sour
and relish the salty, the sharp.
Like the units of chemical heat in a pepper,

which so pain my sensitive cousin
that she even perceives what’s not there
in her guiltless Pad Thai.

I request five on the Scoville scale
ordering chiles rellenos or curry,
more red pepper flakes on my pizza.

Ah, give me the bite of a pungent solyanka,
give me more pickled ginger to go with my sushi
and blend with the wasabi’s burn!

Give me umami to make me sit up,
raw garlic to augment the flavor of pesto
and to ready my tongue for Merlot.

Our cousinly biases usually crisscross
like tattersall plaids, but in our gustation
we’re parallel lines destined never to meet.


Musings on Stench
            O, my offense is rank: it smells to high heaven” —Hamlet

Think of the feathery mound on the beach
that engages the dog one shoulder after the other,

or the foul softness in the net bag
that sullies the other untainted potatoes.

Remember the mess on the middle school floor
before the janitor sprinkled red dust

and the vile black slurry that farmers spray
on midwestern fields every spring.

If only honor’s decay in the mansions of power
had as enduring and painful a stink

as these breakdowns of organic tissue,
then moral corruption might prove obsolete

as eggs so ancient that all they release
is a stale puff of air.


—About the Author—

Sharon Whitehill is a retired English professor from West Michigan now living in Port Charlotte, Florida. In addition to poems published in various literary magazines, her publications include two scholarly biographies, two memoirs, a full collection of poems, and  three poetry chapbooks. Her latest, This Sad and Tender Time, appeared (Kelsay Books) in December 2023.


—About the Image—-

Mandrill in the Berlin Zoo: Katma0601 – Own work, Created: 11 September 2015. CC BY-SA 4.0.

#ImageDescription – Albert, a male mandrill with his red and blue face squats on a rock in the Berlin Zoo with some trees behind him.