I had risen, night into morning, a ball of dough.
The wet cardboard smell of the early
haze from the corn syrup plant burning off,
sick, metallic & sweet, a thick mist
that lasts til noon. There is no word for it but air.
My grandmother’s new language was made up
of dark trees. She went on brief naturewalks,
poured cinnamon into the coffee-maker, turned it
to drip. Well . . . she said, losing the trail.
That summer was so hot nothing was funny.
She sat on a lawnchair in the sun like a baby
snake. In her kitchen, I sweated into the bowl
& kneaded. She never taught me how
to punch it with my fist, or spray the bread
with a waterpistol so it built a crust
against the steam. But her television
was always on, someone walking around
Paris, a place no one I knew had ever been,
pastries lined up in little pink
slaps to the face. If I said I wanted
to stay it would be a lie. I turned on the oven
in the middle of summer, buttered what
I’d seen being made. I steamed it so hard
it cracked. We could hardly chew through it.
So we defrosted the freezer-
burned string beans, the weird pink flowers
of ham someone from her church had left
piled into Ziplock bags for her to eat,
knowing how she never eats, knowing how
even when it seems like she’s there, she’s gone.
Jacob Sunderlin reads “Against Travel”
Jacob Sunderlin’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Narrative, and other journals. He’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Educated at public schools, he teaches 10th grade at one in Indiana.