About Chocolate

by Wendy Barker Issue: Spring/Summer 2019
Hurricane Irma is hurtling into the Caribbean
               and on into Florida—as India, Nepal, and Bangladesh sink  
under water with 1,200 already dead. Meanwhile,
               our friends in southeast Texas are mopping up in the wake
of Hurricane Harvey, so why am I reading
               about a new kind of chocolate, red chocolate; as if dark,
milk, and white chocolate weren't enough. Ruby
               chocolate we've got now, but all these come from the same
cacao plant the Olmec people used even before
               the Mayans. I grew up on Hershey bars, Snickers, M & M's,
Milky Ways, brownies, in my lunch box, after school,
               and after supper. Cocoa before bed. Chocolate, like touch,
releases oxytocin, the "love hormone" that reduces
               stress. Easter Sundays my sisters and I would hunt down
chocolate eggs, peeking behind bookcases and
               the TV. Candy chicks, fluffy bunnies. And all that chocolate,
oxytocin. But how much could a carton of Mars Bars
               help folks floating in their front yards? And truckloads of
Baby Ruths couldn't rescue little kids harvesting
               cocoa beans in West Africa who, I've now learned, are
routinely—even with "Fair Trade"—kidnapped,
               handed machetes to cut bean pods from the trees, often
slicing their own flesh. They couldn’t have
               seen the ads for chocolate: "Comfort in every bar." "Get
the sensation." I just finished Sacha Batthyány's
               memoir. In 1945, during a party with Gestapo bosses  
in a castle near the Austro-Hungarian border,
               at the nearby train depot two hundred Jews were digging
a pit. After dinner, the guests were handed
               guns. Some drove, some walked to the station. They filled
the pit. There had been wine, followed by  
               cognac, with chocolate. Now I'm remembering the time
when my sisters and I were visiting our
               grandparents, they served us a chocolate cream pie that—
we found—swarmed with black ants.

Wendy Barker

Wendy Barker’s sixth collection of poetry, winner of the John Ciardi Prize, is One Blackbird at a Time (BkMk Press, 2015). Her fourth chapbook of poems is From the Moon, Earth is Blue (Wings Press, 2015). Other books include Far Out: Poems of the '60s (co-edited with Dave Parsons, Wings Press, 2016), Poems’ Progress (Absey & Co., 2002), and a selection of co-translations, Rabindranath Tagore: Final Poems (Braziller, 2001). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2013. Recipient of NEA and Rockefeller fellowships, she teaches at UT San Antonio.