Straw into Gold by Stevie Edwards

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

In another state, Mom’s wiping down the glass case
of a bakery display, surprised to find herself past fifty
and returning to her first job — at fifteen she rose early
to ready doughnuts and this readying was supposed
to end with marriage or childbirth or some other thing
she did correctly. She always nodded when the dog barked
at her own image in the sliding glass door. She calls
to tell me I would like the anise cookies the baker makes
on Wednesdays, that she likes them even though
she doesn’t like anise — something about delicacy
and balance. I tell her I am baking a pie because
I have company and she sighs relieved that I have
company or that I am capable of the kind of care
that it takes to bake a pie. She reminds me
to chill the crust dough until it doesn’t stick,
to slice the apples thin and not use too much sugar,
as if I didn’t own a collection of frilly aprons
she’d sewn. As if I wasn’t raised better.
In early dusk Michigan tries
to call, but I turn my phone off
to not hear my mother,
who is not wearing the red dress
we both like, the one
I borrowed for a dance,
Valentine’s Day. I was alone
but pretty, thin legs trying
to be graceful in pumps,
or was it sex trying to be
seen? But I want to
see her in it, her face
clear. In a family portrait
my aunt who’s good with photos
took, Mom’s in a red dress
and her eyes are bright
but nervous. For the lights?
Or what I could do to ruin
the shot, my heavy squirm
trying to escape her
lap? I want us both to be
our youth selves when they said
we were bright and looked like
girls who would marry
well, despite our families,
which we are to each other.
Mom’s trying to prove that motion lessens
dread. Her hands
are perpetually doing — shoveling ash
from the wood stove,
threading the night through an embroidery needle.
The holidays have made me
a boarder again in her home, ungrateful deserter,
beastly mirror of
her twenties. She comes to me with wine
and says she needs me
to teach her bravery. I imagine her young and dancing,
delirious, unflinching. How
she must have worn her vices like sequins and discoed
her body new. She tells me her name
means an inquisition. Women she hasn’t seen since the eighties,
since she moved to this city,
say her maiden name, say she looks good, the years good
to her face, unblemished —
and always ask, dulcet as house cats, Wasn’t it your brother
who killed that boy?
The cashier,
dead again. The gun reloaded. Drugs pirating her brother’s
veins. The trigger, the body. Is he still in prison? Still
I tell her we can change
what her name means. In a better version of this life
her name means maker
of beautiful garments, her name means all the warmth
she’s quilted carefully out of scraps.

Stevie Edwards is a poet, editor and educator. Her first book, Good Grief, was released by Write Bloody in 2012 and subsequently won the Independent Publisher Book Awards Bronze in Poetry and the Devil's Kitchen Reading Award. She is Editor-in-Chief at Muzzle Magazine and an Assistant Editor at YesYes Books. Her poems are published in Rattle, Verse Daily, Devil's Lake, Salt Hill, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. She has an MFA in creative writing from Cornell University.