Cooking A Life With A Wire Spine, poetry by Barbara Harris Leonhard at
Andy Chilton

Cooking A Life With A Wire Spine

Cooking A Life With A Wire Spine

written by: Barbara Harris Leonhard



The recipe book
that Mom assembled
in her own hand.
The front cover, missing.
The coffee-stained pages,
some partly dislodged
from the braided wire spine.
Recipes harvested from lineages
stuck together by spilled batter.

Mistakes. Lessons learned. The hard way.
Trial & error. Until you got it right.
Without burning your hands.
Without blood splatter.

Mom, a complex feast of sour & sweet,
had her edge. Bitter, black coffee.
If provoked, Mom whistled steam
& blew her top.

Like when I started shaving my legs.
Dared to wear her lipstick. Even worse,
eye shadow & mascara. Worse yet,
miniskirts & halter tops.

I took Mother as she was.
Neither gluten free nor fat free.
Nor sugar free.
She was pie crust made with lard.
Beef roast trimmed with fat.
The crisp skin on the holiday bird.
The full plate. No waste. You didn’t hide
the scrambled eggs behind the radio.

You eat it all.
Or you don’t eat.
Finish your plate!

She served us portions Dad could eat.
A sin to have skinny kids!
She made sure I carried my weight,
knowing the dimples of gluten
under the skin would repel love
& dissuade any dream
to be a cheerleader.

Mom’s soft side.
Hot cinnamon rolls.
Fried donuts, spun in sugar.
Pillowy loaves of white bread
hot from the oven, smothered
in sticky strawberry kisses.

Mother transformed want into wonder,
magically feeding seven insatiable kids
on a budget of $100 a month. Turning
our whines into hot bouillon.
Stretching homemade pizza
onto twelve cookie sheets.

Mom’s back, tempered cast iron.
A spiral wire holding it all together –
These recipes of holy perfection.

When you cook,
you go by the book.

I proceeded only with a nod of her head.
Learned not to overmix the muffins.
Or bake in a naked pan. Or cut into the sacred loaf
before it’s ready.

No one wants a mismeasured life.
A cake that falls. Crumbs in your frosting.
Taste as you go.
Don’t just dump it all in.
Too much pepper chokes the throat.

Like Virginia Slims do,
so I dared not smoke –
or – God Forbid – do pot.
She would know & rise up
like yeasty dough
on a steamy summer day
to shuck & can me.

I watch creamer swirl in my cup
& wipe another spill
from a page of the recipe book
with the wire spine
that binds me to her
& wonder when
– if ever –
I can begin to date
or learn to drive
& get my own car
without her coming
to a full boil.

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