From my mother I learned the basics, fundamentals:
How to boil an egg. Sew a button
onto a sleeve. How to stir porridge
five to the right, then seven to the left,
runaway specks clinging to the sides,
hatched sea turtles, brought gently back home.
How to be the hardest working person in the room,
the last one to leave, the first one to raise a hand
and say, I will. I will. I can do this. And this.
And that. And that. And the other. Because
who can forget the other? And I can turn out the lights
Because someone must. And look, I am here already.
And yes there is an order to turning off the lights.
The ones by the window, furthest away, first, as you
make your way to the top of the stairs. And then you
undress in the dark. Because you don’t want to wake
the whole house. And because you can. YOU can.
Because you learned. Five to the right. Seven to the left.
And you birth your babies with neither midwife nor drug.
Because women have been doing so for years, millennia,
out in the fields. Never mind that the last field you passed
was on a school trip to a dairy farm, and that we stopped
yanking out teeth with a bottle of bourbon by our side
a hundred years ago. At least. Never mind.
So you pay attention to the details
Because that’s where the Devil’s at
And you make an art of sacrifice
Because that is the road to Heaven
And you learn how to say with your eyes
And not with your mouth. Because you learned
your lessons well. And all it takes is one
to spoil the whole pot. And all that work,
all that careful chopping and stirring
could easily turn to mush. Inedible.
Or worse yet, ordinary. Mac ‘n’ Cheese
out of the box. Anyone can make that.
But you, YOU are made for better things
Harder things. You can make a souffle.
A bechamel, smooth as silk. You can
sear a calf-liver and make it sweet
No iron. No gravel. So do it again
and again, and again. Until it’s perfect.
And then you push harder. Until
the bones in your spine crumble
And the cells in your body go crazy,
haywire, hither and thither, more
here, less there, and your breath
rattles, like the lid on an empty teapot.
But you stir. Like a prayer.
Compulsive. This is the way
to Salvation. And then the earth
falls away. Because she taught you
She only taught you. As hers taught her
A pinch of salt in the porridge
Lemons in the drain.
Heat the pan first.
Then the oil.
A lid will soften.
The oven, harden.
And yet, she never tasted a thing she made.
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