Patricia Smith is the author of the novel The Year of Needy Girls, a Lambda Literary Award finalist. She received her MFA from VCU in 2001. Her work has appeared in Hippocampus, Heart and Humanity Magazine, Salon, Gris-Gris, Prime Number, Tusculum Review, So to Speak, and Parhelion Literary Magazine, where it was nominated for Best of the Net, and several anthologies. Her essay, “Border War,” which appeared in Broad Street Magazine, received a Special Mention by Pushcart. A teacher of American literature and Creative Writing at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg, she lives in Chester, VA with her wife. 

A Simple Goodness

Patricia Smith

THE deck is awash in red, the geraniums blooming in flower boxes. From the kitchen window, they beckon, say, come out here where it is already summer, already rich with sun. What a miracle to watch things grow, the pale green vinca dripping over the side of the railing, red flower buds ready to burst, each to become its own petal, soft like red silk.


I want to say these geraniums look like France, and maybe I am reminded of poppies, fields of them bobbing red outside a train window. In my memory, I am alone, but when did I ever travel on a French train by myself? 


(Though it could be true).


Here in my suburban American backyard, this is what I do to recreate the scene: I plant red geraniums in the built-in flower boxes that line the perimeter of the deck. And when Cindy and I sit out there in the evenings with glasses of rosé, we could be anywhere, a Paris café or Provence, in the middle of ochre and red and fields of wispy lavender. 


I remember when I first grew an eggplant, the deep purple surprise of it. 


(We should all grow more food).


In France, I first ate an artichoke, dipped in creamy hollandaise sauce. All the food that summer in Montélimar was delicious, the homegrown beans we tipped and tailed, the sweet peaches picked from the trees, the homemade confiture de groseille, thick red currant jam. We slathered it on crusted bread, those mornings when I spoke no English, the delight when French words popped into my head upon waking, words that translated might be the equivalents of sunshine, earth, garden. 

But the best meal? 


The memory comes unbidden. 

I am in Senegal, and we are on the beach in Kafountine. We have built a fire, and Lamine has bought a fish from the fishermen just arriving in their pirogues. There is lemon. A little salt. We eat beneath the coconut palms, the ocean drying on our skin, the warm sand covering our buried toes. 

Later, we will drum and Jan will dance in the shadows. We will sit there almost all night in the inky darkness and the quiet. We will think of fish and the simple goodness of how it is to share such a meal together, how it is true that mangi fii rekk, we are here only. Still. Still.