The Power in My Mother’s Arms
My mother stretched dough thin,
thinner, to its splitting edge.
All that certainty gripped her
wrist, while she sieved
bread crumbs through her fingers,
nuts, sugar, apples, lemon rind,
laying down family legends
like seams in a rock; then
she rolled it all up
the sweet length of the dining room table.
Beaten egg glazed the top, and still
aroma to come, cooling and slicing.
I didn't mind her watching me
eat; I'd give back the heat of my
need gladly, fuel to keep the cycle
elemental, if you've watched birds feed
To every celebration, she matched a flavor,
giving us memory,
giving exile the bite of bitter herbs.
God's word drifted in fragrant soups,
vigor in the wine she made
herself, clear and original.
My mother's death
changed the alchemy of food.
Holidays run together now
like ungrooved rivers. I forget
what they are for. I buy bakery goods.
They look dead
under the blue lights.
I don't do anything the way she taught me.
I don't look like her and I don't sound
like her, but I stand like her.
There must be rituals
that sever what harms
our connection to the past and lets us
keep the rest.
If not, let me invent one
from old scents and ceremonies.
Let me fashion prayer from a
piece of dough, roll it out,
cut in the shape of my mother,
plump, soft, flour-dusted,
the way I once played cook with clay.
Let me keep the cold healing properties
of female images,
to hold fire.
Let me bake her likeness in vessels
made of earth and water.
Let me bless the flames
that turn her skin gold,
her eyes dark as raisins.
Let me bless the long wait at the oven door.
Let me bless the first warm dangerous taste of love.
Let me eat.
~ first published in Women and Aging (Calyx)