A can of creamed corn simmers on the back burner
at 5:30 a.m. Corn that will slather the mashed potatoes
for dinner. Before breakfast or lunch is constructed,
she asks me to chop. Hands me a dull-bladed paring knife.
Wants the tomatoes in wedges, the radishes in circular slices,
the carrots in shreds, the cucumber in chunks with skin
still attached. The romaine ripped by hand.
Filigreed. She wants the salad layered, not tossed.
The transparent bowl rather than the wooden one.
This morning, I construct the salad. There are no spices
in this kitchen. Not even pepper or salt.
This morning, my two-year-old daughter tugs
at my shirt sleeves. Has a book in her hands. The one
about Geraldine and her blanket. She signs
please and then more, bringing her fingers together
telling me she wants to hear the story again.
I drop the paring knife on the counter, wipe my hands
on the towel hanging on the refrigerator handle,
and scoop my daughter into my lap.
She turns the pages right to left, wanting
to read the story backward. We begin at the end,
with the doll dressed in scraps of Geraldine’s old blanket.
We end with the blanket whole, intact,
a full cloth with the border unfrayed. New.
And in the kitchen we hear a thumping sound. Dishrag squeezed
into a tight ball then slammed onto the counter. Circular wiping,
as if trying to eliminate some toxic contaminant. Again, the balling up
of rag, the slamming down onto the counter. Again, the determined scrubbing
of formica. She can never get the counter clean enough. Sterilized enough.
I know this sound. This repetitive action
that happens when she has no words. When the cleaning
communicates her consternation. When the slamming
of cloth to counter signals her disapproval. She is a machine
of cleanliness. A machination of elbow grease and fixed will.
And I finally ask What’s wrong? because the pounding
of cloth to counter continues. She wipes the handle of the refrigerator
over and over. Strident strokes. I know she is ready to talk.
How dare you allow a two-year-old to interrupt you. How dare you
let her disrupt your preparation for dinner. How dare you
let her have such power over you.
But my daughter is in my lap, signing More. She wants
to hear about Geraldine and how her blanket is saved
from the rag heap. And so we sit together. She wraps
her own sock doll in a blanket. Hugs it to her belly,
to her chest. Signs More. Wants to hear the story again.
My mother takes up the paring knife. Begins
to gouge the tomato, then reconsiders and says
to me, You have work to do.
After having taught middle and high school English for 32 years, Marianne Forman is now nurturing her own creative spirit. She has spent three summers in Guizhou Province, teaching best practices to teachers in China. She received Fulbright-Hays Awards to Nepal (2003) and Turkey (2009). Marianne participated in Marge Piercy’s Juried Intensive Poetry Workshop (2016). Marianne’s poetry appears in Muddy River Poetry Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, Jelly Bucket Journal, Gyroscope Review, among others. She has a collection of poetry forthcoming in 2021 from Shadelandhouse Modern Press.