“Chicago-Style Italian Beef,” from Vessel
by Parneshia Jones

[From the WVFC Poetry Archive. First Published October 6, 2019.]


Chicago-Style Italian Beef

 Do you want it dry, wet, or dipped…sweet or hot?

Take a trip to Planet South Side.
Stockyards of old world ciao and arrivederci,
turn-of-the-century Italians
unpack rolling pins and meat sauce
and the family secret—sotto aceti;
made under the Pope’s Sunday blessings
and stone wall kitchens of rosaries and wooden spoons.

That secret sotto aceti, carried in glass jars,
in silk-lined suitcases across the ocean,
settled into garlic-scented kitchenettes,
nestled in neighborhoods hidden
in the south and west crevasses
of a big-shouldered city.

Big-hipped beef
spiced with Mama Francesca’s pepper flakes,
or Mama Louisa’s garlic mix, slow roasting,
don’t rush it, you have time,
go make love,
carry out a vendetta,
pour the spumante,
write to the ones still walking the Colosseum streets
and tell them of this young country,
only a few hundred years old,
this midwestern place of wind, wide lake, and white lighting.
Tell them this is home now.

Razor the beef into whispers,
cascading into a baptism of its own broth.
Get the Italian roll drunk in au jus, pile it with beef
until the wet seams start to give way.

Now the sotto aceti, ahh the sotto aceti,
we will nickname it giardiniera—
this opera of peppers and pimento,
carrots, cauliflower, celery, and olives,
all bathing in oils and vinegars.
Let it drizzle over, down,
in-between the beef, slow down,
don’t rush,
go make love some more,
drink more wine,
sit on your newly adopted stoop,
watch Chicago play its bluesy life,
miss the cobble streets of Rome,
let the giardiniera oil run down your arm,

This is home now. You made it so.
Eat and be close to God.


From Vessel by Parneshia Jones (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Parneshia Jones. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.


Parneshia Jones is the author of Vessel: Poems (Milkweed Editions), winner of the Midwest Book Award. Jones has been honored with the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Margaret Walker Short Story Award, and the Aquarius Press Legacy Award. She was named one of the “25 Writers to Watch” by the Guild Complex and one of “Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago” by Newcity Magazine, and her work has been anthologized and featured on PBS Newshour, the Academy of American Poets, and espnW. A member of the Affrilachian Poets, Jones is the Editorial Director for Trade and Engagement at Northwestern University Press.


Poet’s Note

“Chicago Style Italian Beef” is an ode to Chicago and Rome, two of my favorite cities in the world. It was my first time in Rome when I started to think about how things travel—food, recipes, cultures, and histories, and how we adopt them to our new surroundings and homes. I saw so much of Chicago in Rome. I saw how we make our homes, even if we are far away from home, in places that use  food to bring us together, that allow to carry and celebrate our histories and home everywhere we go.

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