In the Bakery
Sienna-skinned, she waits on us,
patient behind glass, silver trays
balancing cakes, pies, a fragrancy of cinnamon
spiking the close air.
Behind her, hollows in the wall,
dug-out shelves of adobe
painted white and dark with bread,
loaf on loaf stacked above her head,
her hair the nut-brown of crust.
My father is troubled by verbs.
He points at what he wants,
a crumble-topped cake shaped like a color wheel
shading buttercup to maple. It’s his favorite.
She knows from months of Sundays
and smiles, wrapping.
‘Anything more?’ she asks politely, her syllables
slowed for him. He nods.
‘Two of bread,’ he answers, and I love him
for his firm awkwardness.
She twists her body carefully,
as if she were trying to protect it,
and searches the depths of the loaf-homes,
shelf on shelf of variegated breads, wheat and rye
and other grains whose names I haven’t tasted.
‘Light or dark?’ she says to my father, but her words
sift past the mes of his limited vocabulary
and he stands on the floor, helpless and smiling,
clutching his cake.
Before I can lean up and whisper,
she strains across the counter.
The smells of yeast and sugar seep out from her creases
as her fingers touch my hair. ‘Like this?’
and then, retreating, taps her own crown,
shining walnut in the dim interior. ‘Or like this.’
My father’s heavy eyelids lift. He stares at the woman
whose face is lighted in reds and browns,
covers my head with a weight that cups
my skull and soothes, and smooths.
‘Like this,’ he tells us. ‘Like this.’
by Carole Greenfield
Editor’s Note: This narrative poem offers the reader the resilience of love over time and the kindness of strangers as we navigate our often difficult world.