Were I to read you Mother Goose by firelight,
perhaps the world would make sense again
and we could pretend to be right as rain
and then rain would feel right, too.
Were I to read you Mother Goose by firelight,
we could sink deep into this worn armchair
and whisk ourselves away to a place in the past
that only exists in my dreams.
Were I to teach you what I know of the world,
perhaps you would grow up to be like me
and we could live in the countryside
Were you to learn everything I know of the world,
perhaps you could grow up happy with me
and we could break this genetic cycle of hate
cursed to our family.
Were I to love you as plainly, as boldly as now
for the rest of my fruitless days,
perhaps you will be a lovely peach
and we could dare to eat one together.
Were you to love me as thoughtlessly as now
through the awakening of your eyes,
perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
On the creative process:
“Mothers and fathers tend to sigh and say “it goes so fast,” a guarantee which has led me to
attempt to live with my child in the moment. As a working mother, I only have so much time with him each day and so, during those hours, I watch him closely. Having that hyperawareness of his present state as fleeting allows me to see the poetry, the magic in his daily doings, and reflecting on those moments when writing inspires me to create the poems I do. Poetry for me happens like music: it flows out, an already formed being which needs cleaning but grew in my mind during the moment and simply requires release.”
Emily Light writes and works in Northern N.J. where she lives with her husband, her almost almost two-year-old son and her pit bull.
When his eyes close, the dark fall of lashes reminds me of the soft brush of a feathery bough: Christmas needles spread like the fold of an angel’s wing. He hides this way too; it is a child’s magic. When his eyes slip closed, you cannot see him.
I remember me, slipping unnoticed—the way I wanted to be—into the corner behind the Christmas tree. The world was small and secret and scented with the woods in winter, like Narnia. I would pull a blanket around my shoulders, paper-thin pajamas stretching warmth across my back, as I wrap twig arms around knobby knees. Listening to the quiet comfort of solitude. Watching.
Tiny flames of red and green burning just for me. Garland loping silver trails of stardust. I would stare at the winged boughs draped with wonder and think, No one sees you like I do.
And now, as his dark lashes fall, as he wishes away the world, I think, No one sees you like I do.
Elizabeth Maria Naranjo’s work has been published in Literary Mama, Brevity Magazine, Slab Literary Magazine, Hospital Drive, The Portland Review, and a few other places. Her debut novel, The Fourth Wall, was released in June 2014 through WiDo Publishing. You can follow her on Twitter @emarianaranjo.
The spring my daughter, Lily, turned one, my mom came to live with us. She brought her warmth and laughter and, what I was most excited about, her binders full of delicious recipes. She also brought a brand new chili recipe. I rolled my eyes and thought seriously?! And I secretly hoped she’d never make it. I wanted her to make her best fried chicken ever and mouthwatering cannelloni, her steak with Béarnaise, and homemade pizza dough.
This is how my bowl always looked at the end of a chili dinner when I was growing up: a few dashes of the tomato-meat-saucy part clung to the bottom, and, scraped over to one side sat a sad looking pile of dejected kidney beans.
I can brag about my mom’s cooking – her shrimp scampi linguini, dark chocolate truffles covered in cocoa powder, a perfectly cooked eye-of-the-round, studded with garlic, and served on simple buns with a cold, spicy horseradish sauce – except when it comes to her chili. My mom’s chili was the worst.
She made it with ground beef, tomato sauce, a few meager spices (if any) and kidney beans. Enough kidney beans, it felt like, to feed all the starving children worldwide. Beans are cheap, and if anyone had seen how full of kidney beans my mom’s chili was, they’d have thought we were poor. Maybe we were. Ugh! I used to hate chili nights; I prayed for no chili, anything but chili.
My mom served her chili with saltine crackers, butter, and shredded cheddar cheese. Thank goodness for the cheese and crackers because that’s pretty much what my meal consisted of on nights we had chili for dinner. I’d hesitantly scrape through the bowl for bites with meat and sauce, but no beans, like fearfully walking across terrain poisoned with land mines.
To this day I can’t stand kidney beans with their mushy, mealy center and their chewy, rubbery outside. It even took me years, decades in fact, to enjoy other beans because of my mom’s chili. I’d hear about people enjoying fresh bean dips and entire cassoulets made with beans and I’d think, people eat those things on purpose?!
The fall after she moved in with us, the first time my mom cooked her new chili recipe in my kitchen I didn’t pay much attention, but when she sat down to eat some for lunch, and I watched her and my 18-month-old Lily gobble up bowls full, I was curious. It was lunchtime, the kitchen did smell good, and I was hungry. Correction, I was pregnant and hungry. I knew it was different than her old recipe because I’d seen the chopped red pepper and onion on the cutting board, and I could smell things like chili powder, toasted cumin and just a hint of cinnamon, which I thought sounded both odd and intriguing. Still, it was chili; could it really be that good? Turns out my old aversion to chili was no match for my pregnancy hunger.
I remember that first bowlful and gloriously it was nothing close to the chili of my childhood. Full of flavor from the tomatoes, meat and peppers, a hint of heat from the chili powder, and that unique cinnamon; it was the perfect amount of salty, a bit of sweet from the barely caramelized onions, and the pinto and black beans were such a tasty alternative to kidney mush. Topped with some cheddar, sour cream, diced red onions and a few tortilla chips, every ingredient was a yummy perfect accompaniment to the others. I didn’t scrape anything anywhere except into my drooling mouth.
And Lily, my daughter, liked that chili so much it made her eyes light up and her entire face break into smile. Often she would have two and three helpings. She actually requested it for meals, and her Nana indulged her. My mom made that chili almost weekly for herself, Lily and me during the falls and winters she lived with us. The taste, the shared meal, watching Lily delight in every bite, combine to make such a wonderful, precious memory for me around my mom, my daughter and meals.
After a short, heinous battle with stage 4 lung cancer, my mom died in our home only two years after she moved in. The fall after her death my precious Lily, then three, asked me to make Nana’s chili. I’m constantly surprised and amazed by the things Lily remembers. Sometimes I think she has a multi-sensory photographic memory. But honestly, I don’t know why I was caught off guard when she asked me to make my mom’s chili, because I already knew any memory made around great food, love, and special relationships gets rooted in our heads and our hearts, and the scents and memory become one.
And wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t find the recipe.
Shortly after my mom died – grieving and angry, and learning that mostly what people leave behind are cold, unfeeling, ridiculous items like my mom’s six-year-old Toyota Corolla and her antique bonnet chest – I realized I had all of her old recipes. Not cold and unfeeling at all. It was both a comforting and painful realization that I had this precious piece of my mom to cherish. Some of the recipes were in her handwriting, a few had notes she’d written into the margins, “Add more wine,” or, “Needs wine.” She did like her wine. All of them brought back memories. Yet, her new chili recipe was nowhere to be found. It felt like I had The Chili Curse. As if all of my hatred of my mom’s old recipe cursed me into not being able to find her new scrumptious one.
So I didn’t make any chili at all; instead I tried to casually blow off my daughter’s requests by telling her I couldn’t find Nana’s recipe.
In the car over a year later we were playing “Memories of Nana” where we talk about the things we remember that she did and said, how loving and silly and cuddly she was with Lily, Sam (my nephew) and my son, Jasper. Of course Lily said, “Remember she used to make me chili? Mmmm, I loved that chili. Can you make it, Mama, pretty please?”
“I can’t find her recipe, Honey Bunches.” I’d been saying these words for almost two years now. Oh, Time how you rush away from me. I glanced at her in the rearview mirror, wishing, again, as I do a gazillion times a week, that my mom was still here for her because it has to do with so much more than chili; it’s about a relationship with my mom and her wonderful love of cooking and sharing meals that my daughter will never have with her Nana.
A few minutes of silence in the car, I could see Lily looking out the window with her head resting on the back of her car seat, lost in her own special memories of Nana, my ever-deep-in-thought daughter. And she said, “Can’t you just make one up? Maybe Nana didn’t have a recipe, maybe she just made it up out of her head.”
Why can’t I just make one up? It’s chili, not brain surgery. I thought. And I’m a cook, a pretty good one most of the time. What has prevented me, for two years now, from making chili, from providing my daughter with some of her own kind of healing, from giving her back a bit of that delicious, warm memory?
I can blame it on The Chili-Curse, but I know it’s not that. It’s plain and simple, an ugly twist-of-the-gut fear. I’m afraid. Is it better as a memory, that warm, flavorful, nourishing goodness that my mom fed my daughter and me for months, just the three of us enjoying lunch together during the chilly, rainy Pacific Northwest winters? Maybe, and yet, it’s not just my memory. The love that my mom put into that chili she did for Lily, and who am I to try to control or squash Lily’s memories? What it comes down to, what I’m really afraid of is that I won’t be able to make it taste as good as my mom’s. That I’ll screw up my daughter’s precious, cozy memory. I guess the question is, am I brave enough to try?
Sara Ohlin is a writer living in Everett, Washington. Her essays can be found at Anderbo.com (as Sara Mitchell), Trillium Literary Journal, Seattle Neufeld Community Blog, and the anthology, Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America. Her addictions are food, photography and gardening, and she can often be found playing in the garden with her two kids or writing about life at www.lemonsandroses.com.
“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care” reads Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem about Santa Claus, and we also lovingly and carefully hang our handmade stockings on the mantel each year. We reverently remember Gogi, my grandmother, who over the course of thirty-five years gave us this most cherished Christmas tradition. Wrapped in tissue paper for safekeeping, the hand-knit stockings are kept in the hall closet in a box covered with images of Santa. Each year, we carefully take down the box, remove the tissue paper, and hand each child his or her stocking to hang on the mantel in the family room.
From their prominent perch, the eight stockings, each with a name knit across the open end, warm the hearts of Gogi’s family just as the hearth below them warms the home. The stockings bring back memories of the shy, industrious woman who lovingly and patiently made them with her slender hands.
My grandmother’s real name was Mary Elizabeth, and her nickname was Bette until my older brother nicknamed her “Gogi” when he was two. Whenever she came to visit, she would take my brother to the park, or to the library, or to the soda fountain shop on South Main Street, and so the minute my brother saw her walk in the door, he would excitedly shout, “go, go, go,” which later became Gogi. Her knitting skill was acquired when she was a young girl helping her mother and other women knit hats, scarves, and mittens for World War I soldiers.
Exceptionally good with numbers, Gogi was an expert bookkeeper, and this talent may explain her unusual ability to alter or create her own knitting patterns. According to family lore, she found a pattern for a Christmas stocking featuring Santa Claus that she loved, but she altered it slightly to make it even more to her liking. Gogi seemed to use Clement C. Moore’s description in the poem as a guide, for indeed, her Santa had “cheeks like roses and a nose like a cherry.” To make Santa’s beard “as white as the snow,” she used white yarn or, in some cases, white fuzzy material. “The right jolly old elf” on Gogi’s stockings appeared “chubby and plump” with a “broad face and round belly.” Unlike Moore’s portrayal of St. Nicholas, Gogi added a small jingling bell at the tip of Santa’s hat. This became the pattern that she used to knit stockings for her grandchildren and then the spouses of those grandchildren. Her nimble fingers stitched together stockings as family memories were stitched together over time. As each new great-grandchild was born to her large family, she excitedly pulled out her knitting pattern and created yet another beautiful stocking, expertly adding another name to the new sock and to the family genealogy.
As Gogi aged, her fingers became less nimble and her eyes less keen. The Santa on her stockings took on a different shape, often not as round and chubby. The details in the later years became less defined, and yet our lives were lovingly defined by Gogi’s compassionate care and concern. Her presence graced our lives. She shared “pearls of wisdom” as she patiently made “purl stitches” in knit dresses or skirts or scarves. As an involved grandparent, she set the pattern for our lives as a role model who taught us to be creative, patient, and kind, to work hard, and to find joy in the small things.
From the time I was born until the time I got married, the Christmas stocking Gogi made for me hung in my childhood home on the wind-whipped Nebraska prairie. Then it hung beside the stocking Gogi knit for my husband in our tiny apartment near Duke University. Our first child’s stocking hung in a townhouse in Bonita, CA and after our son was born, four stockings hung in a small villa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Naples, Italy. Later, four additional ones hung in a split-level house in Washington, D.C., America’s hometown.
Now they hang in a large southern home in a small farming community in eastern North Carolina. As the years unraveled in quick succession, the stockings traveled with us and adorned several different mantels. At Christmas time every year, as they are “hung by the chimney with care,” they are always a steadfast reminder of home and family, and the grandmother who skillfully, patiently, and joyfully knit Christmas stockings, but more importantly, knit a family together with her love.
Lori Drake is the mother of six children and the founder and former Headmistress of Roseleaf Academy, the only STEM-focused middle school for girls in eastern North Carolina. She taught the writing classes where she emphasized poetry. Her essays and columns have appeared in the Gaithersburg Gazette in Maryland, the Farmville Enterprise and Daily Reflector in North Carolina, San Diego Woman and the Daily Nebraskan. She previously received three Honorable Mentions in the Writer’s Digest National Competition.