Recipe from My Grandmother for Self-Charity
After I’d singe my face a little, I’d wash my hair with the ashes.
The lesson is in the hurt of erasure. Because
my first love signed his name, With Oceans
of Love, but never knew I was pregnant with a son, only the
firstborn, a girl, before he died one of those war heroes
mothers and wives never let die. Because my first love signed
over his checks to me, and my second blessed me with the nickname
Stupid, I had ways of talking myself out of great personal loss.
A whole year went by I never prayed one single day of.
In the breathlessness or the excruciating sunkenness, the brain
dizzy as the stupefying heart, of summer afternoons longer than
years, I would remind myself I was once the May Queen,
109 pounds, and blue-eyed. I was beautiful and I could still
have an ice cream. Everyone knew I loved your mother most
because I needed her. She’d watch the other five in the basement,
the walls with all your uncle’s drawings of rats he called ratfinks.
On bad days, I locked them out of the house. And those rats,
they must have brought with them the plague of sorrow.
You can only listen to so much at once, like the urge to preserve
better days in small glass bottles so you can have the best tastes
anytime you want from all seasons but winter. Winter’s
for remembrance only like those love letters I kept from the war, and
said you can’t take from this house even to copy. If anything
were to happen, when that’s all I have of my real love. Widowed
twice, I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t remember who
I was burying, Jim or Warren. I get so confused.
Did you know I have no teeth now and I haven’t had eyelashes
for years? I burnt those wings off, pressed too tightly to the stove,
boiling potatoes. Everyone said I was all eyes like your baby
brother. All the ghosts are back when I’m cooking, the usual
blue-tongued fire of too many voices in the kitchen. Spoon
the pudding to set upon the table piping hot. Like so, self-love
has to be measured out today, the rest stored up. My sister out in the cornfields
was a nun and she had a PhD in chemistry. Myself, sometimes
Elizabeth’s a queen. Or I’m the flapper, Betty Boop. I come from a long line
of women willing to increase or diminish vanity to taste.
When I fell, I called the fire department, and laid
back on the floor, and those men, and there were two
of them, they swooped me up. Imagine whirling, in dancing
shoes, from one man’s arms to another: O to be myself again!