Our Mothers' Kitchens and the Domestic Creative Continuum: A Reading of Lorna Goodison's Turn Thanks

By Chukwu, Hannah; Gingell, Susan | ARIEL, July-October 2005 | Go to article overview

Our Mothers' Kitchens and the Domestic Creative Continuum: A Reading of Lorna Goodison's Turn Thanks


Chukwu, Hannah, Gingell, Susan, ARIEL


In "The Domestic Science of Sunday Dinner," Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison depicts a young woman in her mother's kitchen where she is learning to work culinary magic on the desiccated ingredients of a national dish, rice and peas, while confidently anticipating the reward:

  There is the soaking of the peas; the red kidney beans
  dried out from hard life, which need to be revived
  through the water process, overnight osmosis ...
  Your efforts will return to you
  As aromas of contentment, harbingers of feasting
  And well being on Sunday afternoon. (1-3, 13-15)

Like any good cook, poet Lorna Goodison knows how to substitute one ingredient for another, and her use of metaphor--making the hard life of the legumes stand in for that of her people--sets up a formula of transformation and of transmission of heritage analogous to those recorded in a well-known passage in African-American writer Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mother's Gardens:

  I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers
  that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible--except as
  Creator: hand and eye. She is involved in work her soul must have.
  Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of
  Beauty.
    Her face, as she prepares the Art that is her gift, is a legacy of
  respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life.
  She has handed down respect for the possibilities--and the will to
  grasp them.
    Guided by my heritage of love of beauty and a respect for strength--
  in search of my mother's garden, I find my own. (241-43)

Whereas Walker uses the garden to represent a Black woman's space of transfigurative creativity, Goodison, in both "The Domestic Science" and "Aunt Rose's Honey Advice," makes the kitchen that creative space. For both writers, their mothers' activities supply a model for their daughters' literary aesthetics, a "redeemed and rescued richness" (Goodison 8) from the stuff of an otherwise marginalized life, while Goodison's Aunt Rose provides an aesthetics of loving that makes life itself into poetry.

In Turn Thanks domestic activities feature at the levels of subject matter, diction and imagery as Goodison represents domestic creativity in three related spheres: a mother's creative activity of giving birth to the children and instilling in them a sense of their culture; a father's nurturing and tutoring of his children; and the family activities involved in the running of a household. Cooking and eating, sewing, gardening, laundering and body care--all of these activities are shown to exist alongside language teaching, singing, dancing, and literary aesthetics, piecing together what Grace Nichols calls a domestic creative continuum. Goodison's language imparts a sense of sacredness to such routine domestic activities as laundering and cooking, and even the dead are revealed to be involved in a spiritual form of creativity. In other words, both physical and spiritual creativities are conceived of as necessary for the balance and proper functioning of an individual in the Caribbean society about which Goodison writes.

By infusing into these domesticities a higher meaning than they have commonly been held to have, and modeling her poetic vision from them, Goodison transforms what has commonly been overlooked as the merely quotidian activities of home making. As woman, mother, artist, and painter, Goodison's creativity informs all the dimensions of her life, but in Turn Thanks she is especially concerned with her experiences and ideas that arise from home-life activities and creative heritage. This article concentrates mainly on sections one and three of the collection and uses them as springboards for a discussion of domesticity based upon matrilineal heritage, although this discussion will logically extend into the two other sections of the book, and will include an examination of the patrilineal heritage celebrated in section two. …

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