by Elise Stuart
My grandma likes to burn food.
She burns toast on a regular basis,
teaching me to love the slightly black triangles
she serves for breakfast.
Some mornings she scrapes the black
from the pieces with a butter knife.
Other times she just tosses the toast out the back
window onto a little patch of grass
where the pine tree stands―for the birds, she says.
Later in the morning, I go outside, make sure no one is looking,
pick up the burnt toast and eat it.
It makes me feel wild, eating off the grass, breaking the rules,
something my grandma would never allow.
She burns pot roasts on Sundays too.
Potatoes and onions are always singed,
the strips of carrots, black along their thin sides.
She never burns cakes or cookies, sweet things she loves.
Is it her way of rebelling?
Does her anger move up through her body
and torch the bottom of pans?
Does she long to be free of her assigned domain, the kitchen,
where red cardinals stand still on ivy-covered bricks?
Nights, she stays up late,
sewing on her black featherweight Singer.
She makes dresses, invents new patterns,
the soft fabric moving quickly beneath her fingers.
Sometimes she lets me sleep downstairs in her room,
snuggled under the heavy wool blanket,
the sound of the sewing machine―
a lullaby that covers me
sets her free.
* * * * *
"Burnt" is from Elise Stuart's 2017 memoir My Mother and I We Talk Cat.
Elise Stuart moved to Silver City in 2005, and her heart opened to the desert. She found the creative current to be strong in this southwest corner of New Mexico, and she found beauty in the land and rivers and sky and in the people who live here. In 2014, when she was chosen Poet Laureate of Silver City, she envisioned young people expressing themselves through poetry so during the next three years, so she gave over a hundred workshops to youth. She continues with this work. In the spring of 2017 her first collection of poems was published, Another Door Calls.