Family Recipes

This is a poem in revision. Critique is welcomed (and invited.)

Posted to Open Link Night at dVerse
—-

afternoon tinkering:

When her sister died in 1938,
leaving my father motherless,
someone had to step in.
Assuming the mantle of matriarch,
Aunt Lora Mae moved in.

Dirt road South Carolina,
chickens and an acre
of okra and cotton.
Lora Mae’s best swing-dancing dress
was pressed and put to hang.
There would be no beguine to begin.

Crinkled photos of a boy and his dog
disguise the prickly white bolls,
bloody finger picked,
the lawn manicured with sewing scissors,
the stories my father rarely told.

To achieve the desired mouthfeel –
silky velvet smooth –
in a carrot puree,
the fibrous core must be removed.

Years later, when my father had his own family,
up North, Aunt Lora Mae, middle-aged, retiring,
astringent, came to live with us.
Birthday cake-baker,
maker of caramel apples,
hoarder of secret sugars,
she taught me how to mold
popcorn balls, hands sticky and buttered,
and promised me her recipe box,
when the time came.

But cat-eyed stern looks are what
lingered on my tongue.

The simplest approach is to cut,
shaving arcs of flesh from the sunburst core,
but the blade is straight, and the carrot round –
no arc strips all the flesh away –
and thriftiness is a virtue.

I have no memories of my father
and Lora Mae together,
except for compulsory gatherings
and celebrations that couldn’t
be shirked.

He only mentioned once to me
that Lora Mae had been hard to please,
a difficult task master,
strict.

Aunt Lora Mae died one January,
aged eighty-six.

It was unseasonably warm, that funeral day.
Our shoes sunk in the sod, winter
woolens flat, sweat-heavy against skin,
we sat and fanned in the South Carolina heat,
didn’t speak ill of the dead.

Amid mourning hush,
a disheveled drunk burst in –
bumbling, stumbling, muttering –
Mae! Darling Mae! I’ll always love you!

But split the core, slice the diameter,
angle the knife just so, and out! –
the core pops clean –
pockmarks where roots reached:
growth and underground life told in relief.

Kissing her chilly cheek, he cried,
collapsed,
pulled a picture, crinkled and torn,
of a smiling Lora Mae and him,
bryllcreamed and beaming,
and a wedding certificate, 1942.

Lora Mae’s swing dress had swung,
unbeknownst to the chickens, the cotton, and Daddy,
then the war marched her smile away.

When her sister died in 1938,
leaving my father motherless,
someone had to step in.
Assuming the mantle of matriarch,
Aunt Lora Mae moved in.

Dirt road South Carolina,
chickens and an acre
of okra and cotton.
Lora Mae’s best swing-dancing dress
was pressed and put to hang.
There would be no beguine to begin.

Crinkled photos of a boy and his dog
disguise the prickly white bolls,
bloody finger picked,
the lawn manicured with sewing scissors,
the stories he rarely told.

To achieve the desired mouthfeel-
silky velvet smooth-
in a carrot puree,
the fibrous core must be found and removed.

Years later, Aunt Lora Mae, middle-aged,
came to live with us, retiring, astringent.
Birthday cake-baker,
maker of caramel apples,
she taught me how to mold
popcorn balls, hands sticky and buttered,
and promised me her recipe box,
when the time came.
But cat-eyed stern looks are what
lingered on my tongue.

The simplest approach is to cut,
shaving arcs of flesh from the sunburst core,
but the blade is straight, and the carrot round–
no arc strips all the flesh away-
and thriftiness is a virtue.

Aunt Lora Mae died one January,
aged eighty-six.
As she lay in her casket,
it was unseasonably warm, that day.
Our shoes sunk in the sod, winter
woolens flat, sweat-heavy against skin,
we sat and fanned,
didn’t speak ill of the dead.

Amid mourning hush,
a disheveled drunk burst in –
bumbling, stumbling, muttering –
Mae! Darling Mae! I’ll always love you!

But split the core, slice the diameter,
angle the knife just so, and out –
the core pops clean-
pockmarks where roots reached:
growth and underground life told in relief.

Kissing her chilly cheek, he cried,
collapsed,
pulled a picture, crinkled and torn,
of a smiling Lora Mae and he,
bryllcreamed and beaming,
and a wedding certificate, 1942.

Lora Mae’s swing dress had swung,
then the war marched her smile away.

10 thoughts on “Family Recipes

  1. This is an amazing story… the loyalty of giving up her own life to care for her sister’s is more than a sacrifice… imagine the husband the she left…

    Love the “no beguine to begin”… the reference to that dance song is a perfect way to tell what she gave up.

    Liked by 1 person

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