Priscilla Kluge, Last Piece of Cake

In Grandma’s kitchen two
round pans buttered and floured await.
She lets me stir
pretending not to notice
when I dip a finger in.

Here she tells of her only sister, one of the
first telephone operators in Burkburnett, Texas,
the Jordan exchange named for her.

In her portrait, at 25, my Great Aunt was
statuesque, raven-haired with
a gaze of concentrated intensity 
As if she knew—
but, I read too much I’m sure.

“She loved dancing with Robert – her beau.
How he cried at her coffin.
I wonder if he ever married—

We called it the consumption then,
and they wouldn’t let her stay at home.”

Grandma pours the batter, and
directs me to tap the pans to remove air bubbles,
which float to the surface like so many memories.

As they bake, we sit.  
I licking the bowl,
she with her tea. 
The fragrant garden flowers between us
and embroidered napkins—   
such tiny perfect stitches,
this too she will teach me.

“We visited her at the hospital
and brought our Guinea pigs.
They darted around her bed squealing and
she kissed the warm bare spots behind their ears.”

She goes quiet, tempted, I suppose,
to leave the story there, forever unfinished,
But when the cake is cool and frosted,
and the first rich slice sits between us,
she confesses the small tragedy
before the wretched heartbreak.

“Right after the visit,
the Guinea pigs all got sick and died.
But, of course, we never told her.”

Shawna Mayer