Poems from the Empty Bowl Cookbook

Happy National Poetry Month! The following poems are from The Madrona Project: The Empty Bowl Cookbook, a literary banquet of writers and artists addressing the ways our species sustains itself with ancestral foods and recipes, adheres to earth’s cycles and protects our habitat of food sources. Join us for readings from contributors including Michael Daley, Tele Aadsen, Luther Allen, Jane Allyn, Jessica Gigot, Georgia Johnson, Charles “Chuck” Luckmann and William J. Weissinger Monday, April 8, 6pm at Village Books. More info and RSVP here.
The sixth issue of The Madrona Project delivers a literature of sustainability. A banquet of writers and artists addresses the ways our species sustains itself with ancestral foods and recipes, adheres to earth’s cycles, and protects our habitat of food sources. Poems, prose, and art exemplify human successes and failures and offer up some darn good recipes. Here are a few selection from the pages of The Empty Bowl Cookbook…

Wooden Bowl 

I carried rice that long-ago year,
hitching and hiking the mountains,
canyons and coastlines of the West.
Basho’s Back Roads tucked in my pack,
and the ephemeral friendships of the road
for company.

I camped most nights and cooked
in a small, blackened pot.
Brown rice simmered over coals,
sliced onion to steam as the water
cooked down. A splash of tamari,
and green tea in a chipped enamel cup.

Each day a new passage.
I took notes in a journal and wrote
awkward, stumbling poems
as dinner steamed and woodsmoke
wound down one evening stream
or another.

Looking at those pages now,
I barely recognize the young fellow
who wrote them, or the wild
and hidden places, coastal forests
or overgrown orchards where I camped.
Most are gone.

But I still taste the nutty
golden crunch of rice
from the bottom of the pot,
sweetness of cooked onion,
the salty tang of soy, and I feel
the comforting fit of a wooden bowl,

warm in my hand
as the night air grows cool.
Basho wrote “the journey itself is home,”
and for a moment, I’m there.
The last of my tea just enough
to clean the empty bowl.


Tim McNulty’s early wanderings landed him on the Olympic Peninsula, where he’s hunkered ever since. His books of poetry include Ascendance, In Blue Mountain Dusk, and Cloud Studies.


Ode to the Nettle
Urtica dioica

As kids, we avoided you—learned the hard way
that urtica means burning—double-dared each other
to run in shorts through the field where you grew,
wore your tattoo of red welts for days, a badge

of childhood courage. But were you always someone
to avoid? During WWII, when flax was hard to find,
you were twisted into paper, cloth, twine. Earlier,
the Salmon People asked permission to harvest you,

wove you into nets, drank your bitter brew
to ward off colds. Today, I await your arrival,
a harbinger of spring emerging from winter’s
soggy soil, pointing your green stalk skyward,

unfurling your flags, claiming your territory,
armed against all casual browsers. So I suit up
to harvest—gloves, long sleeves, a basket—
pause to ask permission, clip your tender tops,

carry you home to be steamed, your sting
rendered helpless in inches of boiling water,
which I will drink, make soup from your
limp, bright greens, or enjoy you sauteed

in olive oil, mixed into pesto. We will
eat you not in revenge but with gratitude
that we can know what it means
to revere you, gingerly, with gloves.


Holly J. Hughes is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Hold Fast. Her chapbook Passings received an American Book Award in 2017. She is the copublisher of Empty Bowl Press; directs Flying Squirrel Studio, which offers residencies for women; and consults as a writing coach. She lives on the Olympic Peninsula.



Life with raspberries starts with strawberry season in Sumner, a “sunset town” for blacks and Indians. You’re eleven, on your knees dragging a carrier and filling six small boxes. The knees in your pants give up at week two. The farmer moves you to bush beans, more knee work, you drag a sack behind you. The patches on your knees wear out at the end of the week. You move to pole beans and get to stand up, walk, stretch, still dragging that long sack which you drag to the next field: cucumbers. Knees again, this time hands scratched raw from prickly leaves and knobby cukes. Gloves just slow you down, and you’re paid by the pound. The farmer picks you up in an old school bus with kids of all ages, and you’re the youngest at eleven. Next year you choose a raspberry farm in North Puyallup, where the farmer picks you all up in a flatbed truck. Everybody stands up to work raspberries, and anybody can pick. You get a picker’s cabin with a trash burner stove, a spigot and two older kids, and you live there all summer. You are serious pickers, like the Puyallup, Muckleshoot and Yakama families. Old Rose and Old George, Wobblies from the ‘30s, tell you and the others, “Educate, agitate, organize!” every evening around the bonfire. Old George wears a homemade left ear for the one he lost in WWI. You think of them during the farmworkers’ strike by Chavez and Huerta two decades later, two generations younger. You hunt cottontails with your bow between the rows and fry them on the trash burner. Many mornings the berries are too wet for picking, would mold in the boxes, and the bug spray from the night before covers your hands with a rash. You hoe weeds that steal water from the canes and start picking when the leaves are dry. The first two red hands full are breakfast. Fall and winter you love the canes by cutting back the lateral vines to the second joint, tying up the canes and guiding them onto the wires between posts on the row. Here, you hug the canes tight to tie them with a square knot—robins pick apart a granny knot and use your twine for nesting—and you snip the twine with a curved blade atop a ring on your middle finger. Hug, wrap, tie, snip. The hugging costs you an old shirt on your first day, those canes are rough! You buy an old leather coat from St. Vincent’s for $1.50 (three full carriers of berries) and it lasts the winter. By then you’ve hugged over a thousand bushes, and you imagine your canes feel fresh after pruning, like a haircut.


Bill Ransom’s most recent collection is The Woman and the War Baby from Blue Begonia Press. He was born in Puyallup and lives in Grayland on Chinook land.


Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not. —Seamus Heaney

A rainbow descends into the sheep pasture, green
and lit from within. This late August storm has morphed

into shimmer and we have no choice but to wander outside.
Standing by the drainage ditch we fill our white bucket

with large, bulbous bursts of sweet. Dark juice paints
their little, sticky fingers. My lips are aubergine.

If I could preserve this evening in a jar, I would. Their tender
smiles, the playful prick of vine, followed by sugar burst bliss.

They forage higher and higher each year, grasping
for this fleeting fruit, delicate beads that taste like lost time.


Jessica Gigot is a poet, farmer, and coach. She lives on a little sheep farm in the Skagit Valley. Her second book of poems, Feeding Hour (Wandering Aengus Press, 2020) was a finalist for the 2021 Washington State Book Award.


I remember

waking to a Townsend’s warbler’s warble, cheater-
cheater-chattering away; the smell, too, a ripened
seaweed cocktail—the beach laid long like a bar.

There are many who don’t know or care, can’t ever
imagine life with edges. What it is like to have
salivating fangs pondering you, hungry.

The sand molded to my sleep, imprinted my pumping
heart pulsing with the tang of iron and nutrients. Who
but mosquitos or passing wolves know if I am worthy?

My dreams didn’t catch its sniffs, but the beach caught
their furtive tracks. My sleep sack did, too, with a paused
paw print on the corner and a wet nose spot glistening

where my thigh slept.


Lowell Jons’s writings and photography have appeared in a smattering of publications. He calls the Salish Sea his home, having lived in Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Olympia, and finally in Friday Harbor.

 Finn Wilcox
Dumpster Dinner

First there are the greens,
always lots of greens
and a few onions
right on top,

Then dig a little deeper
past loaves of turquoise bread
and the smell of souring milk
until you hit cheese…

two good tomatoes,
a bunch of carrots,
and a full bag of donuts!

Now load what you can
in a sack and
beat it back to the jungle.

The dumpster dinner
cooks in the pale moonlight

the dumpster dinner
steams with what you find

and any tramp will tell you
garbage always tastes better
when cooked outside.


Finn Wilcox, one of the founders of Empty Bowl as well as Olympic Reforestation Inc, was a reforester for two decades. He’s the author of several remarkable Empty Bowl books including Too Late to Turn Back Now and The Silence of a Shooting Star —and co-editor of Working the Woods, Working the Sea.

Empty Bowl, an independent press founded in 1976 in the Pacific Northwest as a cooperative letterpress publisher, publishes periodicals, literary anthologies, collections of poetry, books of Chinese translations, essays, and fiction.
The mission of Empty Bowl is: literature and responsibility in support of human communities in wild places. Learn more at emptybowl.org.

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