Susan Amis, 2011
The following reading was recording on April 29, 2011.
A Letter to My Big Brother
We were sharing a meal the way siblings do,
with ruthless, affectionate laughter. Your large
hands were churlish, clattering and slow.
I called you a monkey and you said
I was retelling an old story: white people
comparing black men to monkeys,
again. History's second language waits
beneath the first, like a body pressed below
the surface of a cold lake. A story
can be told within a story: when Granddad
would remember down south, his voice struck us
at different angles. Every word was a shaft of light
and my white reflected them all while you
absorbed each one like ripe fruit
moldering under the weight of more sun than
any small, sugared body can hold.
There were two young maple trees
behind the house where we grew up. You led
and I followed; swaying, we could reach out
and catch ourselves on branch
after impossible branch. Once, I fell
from the empty air onto a few shards of broken
pottery hidden at the roots. You never fell.
You worked into the tree; your hands flying
like two wild birds to weave your body
into the green, wind-blown crown as if
you were weightless, or maybe
as if you already knew what waited on the ground.
Chopping apple after apple in my mother's kitchen,
the knife halves the fruit in a perfect star of seeds.
We use the same recipe a million ways.
One hand full of brown sugar, one hand full of oats.
The knife halves the fruit in a perfect star of seeds
every time, it is my inheritance: seed stars, heat, patience,
one handful of brown sugar, one handful of oats
and my grandmother whispering to me.
I've inherited seeds, stars, heat and patience
and the work of being a woman. All the things
my grandmother whispered to me
must be baked in allspice and browned butter.
Being a woman is its own kind of work.
All things may die with their season, but still
you must learn about allspice, about browned butter.
Women can bake apples to be sweet as caramel.
There may be a season for some,
but a recipe is a list of demands:
apples must be sweet as caramel
and fill the house with their own warm autumn.
A recipe is a list of demands,
but the same recipe can be used a million ways
and the smell that warms the house
is apple after apple being chopped in my kitchen.