PIE AT 3 AM
She and Pop slept in the basement
when we visited—me in Dad’s old room
where the bluebird on the magnolia branch
he painted at twelve still hung;
Mom and Dad in my grandparents’ room.
Mattress sour and baseboard sticky
in the summer’s humidity, the basement bed
was tucked near the washer on the slab floor.
I don’t know if she pulled the chain on the bare bulb
or climbed the open stairs in the dark,
but when the sixth step cracked like old knees,
I’d slide from beneath the limp sheet.
In the kitchen, Gram in her thin gown was backlit
at the refrigerator. I loved watching
her hands—huge, dark with liver spots,
hot as a poultice—work the cold Crisco.
She’d peel the skin from those wormy apples
that grew beyond the well into long ribbons
that curled in the slop pail beneath the sink.
Sugar, salt, squares of pale butter. Then she’d flour
the counter, the floor, her fat bare toes, and roll the dough.
Pie plate draped in crust, she’d hoist it eye-high,
spin it in a slow circle on her finger tips,
trimming the excess with a knife long as my forearm.
Pie in the oven, I’d go back to bed without a word,
sweet steam mixing with the smoke
from her forgotten cigarette burning to ash
on the kitchen table, her eyes fixed
on the uncurtained window
where all was still dark.
Author’s Comment: It’s fitting that this poem and “The Feeder” should appear together as the Pop mentioned briefly at the beginning of this poem is the old man addressed in “The Feeder.” It’s been a long time since I made pie crust from scratch.
Bio: A native of Arkansas, Celisa Steele (www.celisasteele.com) now makes her home in the Paris of the Piedmont, Carrboro, North Carolina. Her poetry has appeared in The South Carolina Review, Tar River Poetry, Anglican Theological Review, Kakalak, Pinesong, Bay Leaves, Always on Friday, and others. Emrys published her first chapbook of poems, How Language Is Lost, in May 2011.
oh, just beautiful. thank you, Celisa!
Thanks, Naomi. I remember you reading about your mother-in-law’s preparation of the fish at Wildacres. Food can embody love.
This poem reminds me of my grandmother making her pie crust… out of lard. The detail of the cigarette on the edge of the table is evoking. Remember when everyone smoked? Thanks, Celisa.