Secret Family Recipe

Get out the notebook of handwritten recipes   look

under B for Bread   then A for Anadama   cook

the yellow cornmeal the way it says

on the box   when it’s too thick to bubble

turn off the flame.

Think about the child who would have been

eighteen now standing beside you

opening the yeast   pouring it into a mug that says Mother

or asking why you bother

when they sell Anadama Bread right across the street.

Add a pinch of ginger so the yeast will bubble

faster   and a tablespoon of sugar because

that’s what Becky did   pour the water over

be sure that it’s tepid   and when the door slams

and your child is off to college   cover with a saucer

and remember not to stir.

Look at the scratch on the refrigerator   think

about him taking you up against the door

Get out the butter   melt it in the cornmeal

add the molasses   while you are waiting

for everything to cool   defrost the freezer

with an ice pick and hammer   and don’t forget

the night he slapped you in the face.

Stick your finger in the cornmeal

partly for the temperature and partly

for the sweet and sour taste of the day

you stood before the doctor

with his skinny eyes and forceps   when

everything is lukewarm

put your feet in the stirrups   stir in the yeast.

Sift organic flour   fold in the bitter

cold   plunge in your fingers   knead

on a slab ’til elastic and smooth

and when he says he’s leaving

for the girl who will gladly have his babies

keep your mind

and your stomach very, very still.

Let the dough rise until doubled

in the cracked yellow mixing bowl   cover

with a damp towel   don’t leave

in the light   clean up the cruddy bits   forget

about the sucking sound there’s nothing

you can do now but punch

down the dough because rising once

is not enough   if your fingers get all sticky

do not answer the phone.

It could’ve been him calling

from a payphone in the dormitory:

Hey, Mom, I got here and Dad says hello.

Or it could’ve been her wondering

if the house is too empty now that you are back

to living on your own.

Crack the egg open   glaze the dough

with broken yoke    turn on the oven   don’t set the timer

you can tell by the burning smell

exactly when it’s done.

Turn out the loaf onto a wire rack   slice

with your favorite knife   inhale

the steam   slab

on the butter

and before you take a bite

thank God for everything

you ever might have been.

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