My Mother’s Kitchen by Joanne Durham

My Mother’s Kitchen

Of course I thought my mathematician Dad
was the source of my school smarts,
all those A’s first grade through grad school.
Yet here in my uncle’s memoirs—
Lillian the funny sister, and Clara,
the smart one.
Clara, my mother,
who smoothed hurt feelings
like she ironed wrinkles from my father’s
shirts, but never went to college, started
work in the bargain basement
at fifteen pretending she was twenty,
married and escaped into homemaking,
led girl scout camping trips
and baked chocolate chip cookies.
I mocked her in my teenage years
for how ardently she redid the kitchen
in a palette of mauve and faux fern.

The smart one. All that time I was satisfied
with a simple language and now I know
I needed one with twenty words for snow,
or that at least spells mother six different ways,
and I’m sitting again at her kitchen table
that morning she mused about the gifted class
she loved in second grade, but they moved
for the third time and anyway she was just
a little girl. Then she folds her yellow
flowered apron and steps aside, as she
always did, to let everyone else’s life
parade along the crowded pavement,
while she smiled and waved and cheered us on.

by Joanne Durham

Twitter: @DurhamJoanne

Editor’s Note: The irony of “escaped into homemaking” in this narrative poem becomes ever more evident as the lines carry the reader through a life that so many women lived, with love.