Shuly Xochitl Cawood

is the author of The Going and Goodbye (Platypus Press, 2017) and None of Them Home (Red Bird Chapbooks, forthcoming 2018). Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Brevity, The Rumpus, JuxtaProse Literary Magazine, and Cider Press Review, among others. Her website is www.shulycawood.com


SECRET INGREDIENT


When I want to please my father, I cook butternut squash.
Peel and boil, broth and curry, mash the soft squash
against the sides of the silver pot that for two decades has managed magic:
solids to liquids, disparate to inextricably together.

When I want to comfort my mother, I bake fudgey cake from a tattered
recipe that calls for cups of chocolate chips, pecan halves, cocoa
powder. The glaze slips down the sides but solidifies when cool.
My mother shaves off slivers, licks the knife clean.

When I want to feed my sister, it’s white bean soup: great northern,
grown in the Midwest, just like we were, where one summer she painted
the picket fence, and I cooked us two frozen dinners: salisbury steaks,
gravy, potatoes, apple pie. Cicadas rattled songs from trees after seventeen years.
The sun hung onto the early evening sky, the light of youth and never enough.
We ate sitting cross-legged on the grass, scraping the bottom of our tin trays.

For my husband, it’s red lentils with cayenne pepper,
a squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro. When we’ve run out of words,
I add a dollop of sour cream and it melts into the dish without needing answers.
When he’s tired, when he’s down, I bake a yogurt custard pie with berries,
a crust crushed from ginger snaps and strawberry jam.
It’s a dessert of opposites: baked then chilled, sweet yet tart,
the outside cracked, the inside soft.

When I miss the once, the used to be, I soak black beans overnight
as stars slip across the Southern sky. In the morning, I add bay leaves,
more than necessary. My mother used to make it look so easy:
chopped onions, minced garlic, cumin and coriander and a long boil. It is simple
but takes some time. Toward the end, I shred tortillas, crack open eggs
and drop them in, wait until the yolks cloud over,
a pan of yellow eyes going blind.