Julie Brooks Barbour
My grandmother recited recipes from memory.
She wrote nothing down. Even when I offered
pen and paper, she insisted on speaking.
Ingredients and measurements might settle
into my memory if she repeated them often enough,
like a spell. I refused that vocabulary.
It was like science, and I only liked science
when it pertained to animals and their habitats.
I adopted the language of stories, took the pen and paper
I’d offered my grandmother and wrote my way
out of the kitchen, away from boiling water
and baking temperatures. Outside, I dug old bottles
from the dirt in the chicken house, dusted the soil off
their curved bodies and traced the raised letters;
I plucked stamen and stigma from passion flowers
until they became dancers I twirled between my fingers.
The sun’s heat could bear down on me
but not the heat of the kitchen or its rules.
My grandmother never stopped trying to lure me in,
offering banana pudding or cherry cobbler at the end
of a school day, waiting to tell me when I finished
of cups measured or how much fruit to slice
but I slipped out the screen door after
cleaning my bowl, my only work in that room.
Music for the Night, Music for the Day
To have been a farmer’s bride,
rising alone, eating toast and sausage
before waking the children, husband
already out in the barn, collecting tools
for the day’s work, or on a cold morning
littering the floor with splinters of wood.
Instead, I married a poet and his child
who lie awake listening to the night,
who darken their rooms against the morning light
that I still revere no matter how I wed.
They pose questions to the dark,
follow the phases of the moon, speak to
its many eyes and mouths. From those dark
spaces they hear music, soft and indiscernible
to me, songs loosened by a beam of light
from the hall or my own voice calling out
to those chords. Lover of the morning,
I swoon to the crow’s rough call and the dove’s
soft whisper. They court the barred owl’s
shivered chant, the dog’s lonesome aria.
Each in our own worlds, I marry
the farmer and take my breakfast alone.
The Baby Discovers
Her mouth is a cavern that begins the longing
of her human life. My breast, a ball,
and the orange nose of her doll all warrant a search
by the finely tuned buds of her tongue.
Nothing escapes: bits of torn paper and a cat’s whisker
are pulled from her mouth, turned over by fingers,
investigated by eyes, tried again by taste.
Her tongue will never want for these small things
so eagerly again. Once her fingertips learn
the odd tingle of sensation, once her mouth learns
certain textures it touches have no taste, no smell,
then she will yearn for the candies,
the soft creams melting in her mouth.
One day, she will seek softness and warmth
beyond my breast—the smoothness of someone else’s skin
against her lips—and every inch of her body will learn
what now her tongue only knows,
what now her mouth opens itself toward.
The Bend and Rise of Streets
The white inside wing of a gull
gave brightness to the gray street this morning,
fluttering between parked cars as I passed
then the sudden rising up,
the pivotal turn away from me.
Wings open, dark eyes
between that wingspan,
the flight so certain and fluid
I lost direction. I stuttered
and slowed the car
and shook off following,
let memory be my compass
in this bend and rise of streets.
On this road, two stop signs
then a right turn at the flashing signal.
Up the steep hill. Another right
at the gravel road. I could remember
street names but my body recalls
more easily the upward slope
of a hill or the bend within
a curved road. I lean and turn,
a gull heading north
for the summer.
A car and a current.
A path and a migratory pattern.
Goldenrod and pine trees blur
into gray bridges and roads.
While I rock my daughter to sleep,
fledglings try their wings
on the other side of the window,
flapping up and down so crookedly
it’s as if they were on strings.
The phone rings. The timer dings.
The old desires rise up:
dancing, laughter, familiar faces from my youth.
I rock them to sleep with the baby,
back and forth, ignoring the phone,
the supper in the oven.
Let it all burn.
The young birds outside are learning
to light on tree branches and shoot toward
the clouds. The baby sighs and shifts
into slumber. I put myself at ease
admiring the birds’ black feathers
as the sun shimmers them green.
Corner by corner I hang the sheets:
dark blue, red, a floral print tattered at the edges.
They whip themselves into one another
with the breeze, sometimes twisting
into a snarl. My mother would drape her white sheets
one over two lines, a tent I would run through.
I show my daughter what I used to do.
She follows with mud under her fingernails,
hair hanging in her face, her smile the same
as any child dirty among the wash.
Next door, my neighbor’s white shirts
flap like sails, armpits stained yellow.
Across the street the widow hangs her briefs to dry.
It is a bright, clear day among the houses.
It was a haunting, a shadow:
a hawk making a meal of crow
on my patio. I watched
the hawk pick his prey clean,
gulping strips of flesh.
Then he vanished.
I craned my neck to see what was left:
a skeleton, perfectly intact--
a museum piece
reflecting the late-afternoon light.
On the other side of the patio,
my young daughter stood at the door,
palms pressed against the glass.
Neither she nor I stirred.
It was a moment left to itself,
a vision I woke from in the morning
and kept glancing back toward
with a mother’s attentive eye
that could only watch.