The fascination of the day, the word
cutting a deep groove in her mind
like urgent rainwater: flood—
“when it rains and rains and rains
and water rises and rises and sweeps cars
down the street,” she says with a flourish of lips
and arms after watching a YouTube montage—
Pennsylvania towns like Bloomsburg
and Hershey drowning in September, 2011.
“You were a baby,” I tell her,
“so you don’t remember your stroller ride
down muddy Broad Street, Montoursville,
after the Loyalsock receded.”
We gawked at ruined homes; she napped
to the drone of Shop-Vacs and water pumps.
“Our town flooded?” she asks and waits.
A speck of Ark floats in each wide blue eye.
Shanna Powlus Wheeler directs the Writing Center at Lycoming College. Her poetry chapbook, Lo & Behold, was published by Finishing Line Press. Individual poems of hers have appeared in a wide range of magazines and journals, including Literary Mama and The Mom Egg. She lives with her husband and daughter near Williamsport, PA.
Tonight the two of you fell asleep wrapped in each other’s arms. I find you like this most mornings, a mash of brown hair and fleece nightgowns.
The night I brought you home, I wrapped you both in your own blankets and placed you a foot or two apart inside of a cradle I had refinished. You cried for hours. I couldn’t make it stop. Finally, I loosened the blankets and connected you. You were quiet for the next eight years.
I read an article a few weeks ago about archeologists in Italy finding the skeletal remains of a couple embracing. The remains are believed to be between five and six thousand years old. The headline read: The Prehistoric Romeo and Juliet. No one knows why or how they died; just that they were young and they clung to one another and that embrace has survived for more than 5,000 years.
The archeologist who led the dig said: “From thousands of years ago we feel the strength of this love.”
I want you to hold onto one another like that, tight enough to survive the blast.
Amye Archer is a writer and teacher living and working in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She holds an MFA from Wilkes University, and is a recipient of the Beverly Hiscox Scholarship. Her writing has been published in Nailed Magazine, PANK, PMS: Poem Memoir Story, Hippocampus Magazine, Boston Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. She is the author of two chapbooks, No One Ever Looks Up, published by Puddinghouse Press, and A Shotgun Life published by Big Table Publishing. Her full-length collection of poems, BANGS, was released by Big Table Publishing in August of 2014. Her one-act play,Surviving, was produced locally in 2012. She has read for various magazines including PANK, Quiddity, and Hippocampus. Amye is a Libra, a lover of cats, a devout follower of politics, mommy to Samantha and Penelope, and a partner-in-all-things to Tim. Follow her at @amyearcher.
My daughter’s home economics teacher had no idea what havoc she had brought into my life. To Emily’s teacher, it was a great assignment–create individual, family cookbooks by assigning each student to bring in seven beloved family recipes.
Seven family recipes.
I do not own any family recipes. I don’t have a single recipe passed on from another generation. My family does not cook. We read. We eat, of course, but by the barest minimal effort. Following a recipe requires skills we do not possess.
Don’t assume my mother’s home lacked cookbooks. Classic texts from Betty Crocker and Fannie Farmer sat on our kitchen shelf. But to my mother, cookbooks were to be devoured like novels or travel guides. Leave a book and cook instead? Never.
My father, a Navy cook, was the closest we had to a chef. Growing up, Dad would occasionally make Sunday family dinners, mess-hall style. There was chicken-ala-king and something he affectionately called Gobbledygook. To this day, I can’t tell you what was in that dish, but I suspect it had something to do with mayonnaise.
When Emily’s teacher explained the assignment, I knew what she wanted–family specialties lovingly handwritten on 3-by-5 recipe cards, with cute flowers lining the border. These mythical cards would list ingredients in two neat columns, dutifully followed by a brief paragraph of instruction. The card might be a bit worn, but not tattered. Once used, it would return to its place of honor in the family recipe box.
In my family, cooking instructions come from the back of a frozen pizza box.
My daughter’s project was doomed.
It isn’t that we haven’t tried to make family cookbooks before. It’s just that they’re unmitigated disasters. In kindergarten, Emily’s class shared family recipes for a Mother’s Day gift. Her classmates submitted family favorites–granola goodies, tacos and chocolate-chip cookies. Emily’s offering–grapes.
The kindergarten cookbook fiasco shouldn’t have been a surprise. Not only did my mother lack a culinary interest, but my husband’s mother, a librarian, also preferred books over cooking.
My husband, George, was in the second grade, when he and his classmates created their cookbook and his mother did offer a recipe for pork chops. But while other mothers’ recipes were elaborate, long lists of ingredients and detailed instruction, George’s mom’s got to the point: “Put pork chops in a pan. Pour a can of tomato sauce over them. Put chopped up celery on top. Bake.”
Over the years, I’ve attempted to break this generational pattern. Others have come to my aid. At first, I was given individual recipes. Then I was given cookbooks such as The Absolute Beginners’ Guide to Cooking. After this proved useless, I was given prepared food in plastic containers. Now I get restaurant gift cards.
Yet, I do have one saving grace. I can make bread. It doesn’t happen often, but once or twice a year, I find the courage to bake. When I create a modest loaf, I feel victorious; I dare to believe that our family culinary failures can be reversed.
One morning this past summer, I attempted a loaf of monkey bread. I was baking solo, as Emily has little reason to show interest given my other culinary adventures.
From one of my many neglected cookbooks, I picked a simple recipe for a low-sugar, whole wheat monkey bread. As I was kneading away, Emily wandered by and asked what I was doing. When I told her, she balked at the idea of such fun-sounding bread consisting of whole grain.
A few days later, however, she suggested we make monkey bread again, but insisted we make it her way – with lots of sugar and refined, white flour. I was surprised, but figured Emily was motivated by the thought of the bread’s sugary icing. I agreed. We made the bread, but I didn’t think much more about it.
The other day, I nervously asked Emily if she had figured out any of the seven family recipes she needed to submit for her class project.
“Heating up sausage,” she said.
I wanted to point out that “heating up” wasn’t really a recipe, but I kept quiet. At least she could serve the warm pork with our fabulous family grapes.
But then she added, “I also want to put in the recipe for monkey bread, the good kind, not the kind with whole wheat.”
Really? I was surprised our brief cooking time had made that much of an impression. Yes, our monkey bread, complete with icky- sweet frosting, could become a recipe–a real, handwritten–on-a- card-with-love recipe.
One family recipe down, six to go.
I might just have to buy a pack of recipe cards yet.
Anne Shedden-Willis writes from Melbourne, Florida, where she lives in a three-generation and multiple-pet household. Her essays and fiction work have been published in several publications including the Christian Science Monitor, Centering Corporation Newsletter, and the Santa Fe Review. Her current goal is to complete enough short stories so she can say she has a collection.
She will remember a vast lake, with deep water, ringed by a wild wood. As we make our way back and forth across the pond,
her paddle barely dips below the water line,
the handle drags along the edge of the boat.
Sometimes she misses the water completely
as she oscillates between chatter
and mid-sentence stopping awe
when something splashes nearby.
I work to navigate us away from the shallows
while thinking of the immensity ahead for her,
hoping I will continue to be able sit behind
and watch her gasp in wonder of the sky, the breeze,
and small creatures that make the brush rustle.
Jamie Lynn Heller is a mother, wife, and high school counselor who gets up before the house starts to stir to write. Her chapbook, Domesticated, Poetry from around the House, was published with Finishing Line Press. She received a Pushcart Prize nomination in 2015 from The Little Balkans Review. She has pieces published or accepted at Prairie Schooner, Tule Review, The Main Street Rag, Noctua Review, Gargoyle, Iodine Poetry Journal, Earth’s Daughters, Flint Hills Review, I-70 review, The Mom Egg, Avocet, Storyteller Magazine, Little Balkans Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Diversion Press, KC Voices Magazine Volume 8, KC Parent Magazine, The Whirlybird Anthology of Kansas City Writers, To the Stars Through Difficulties: A Kansas Regna in 150 Voices, Whispering Prairie Press Writing Contest Honorable Mention Poetry 2012, Kansas Voices Contest Honorable Mention Summer 2011, and Because I said so: Poems on the Happiness and Crappiness of Parenthood and others.