“Kitchen Song” and other poems, by Debra Kaufman

Kitchen Song
	for Barrie

You, yes, you
	back-lit in your apron,

singing along to “Summertime”
	on the stereo,

garlic and basil sizzling in olive oil,
	I mean the kitchen of you,

flipping a perfect omelet,
	then pirouetting, ta-da!

with a laugh, your honey baritone,
	the rhythm of you wiping

down the counter, pouring
	champagne, I mean the lyric

of your calluses,
	your fingers' light touch,

the heat, the light
	skip of you, you

who I fell for and still fall for,
	the whirling dance

of you, yes, you.
Sheltering, Day 170
	for Bailey, age 15

In the months since your last visit,
your voice registers an octave lower,
your rangy bones have stretched another inch,
your hair has grown long and lustrous.
When you toss a lock back,
you are half prince, half colt.

You worry about people being shot in the street,
the ever-rising virus, your parents' marriage,
the future of this burning, flooding planet.
You wonder what you can do, who you
will become. To grow requires feeding—
fried chicken, mounds of ice cream.
To know yourself requires reading,
inventing, risking. And time,
a lifetime of questioning.

I wish I had answers. I want everything
I tell you to be true, as in level,
as in honest, though I myself
could use a dollop of faith.
None of the old stories work anymore.
Can you believe
we may be better than we seem?
I see simmering in you, and shimmering.
You look deep into the glass,
finish your milk in one long gulp.
The Farm, 1959

Flies cling to the kitchen screens
while Grandma Naomi stews tomatoes.
The uncles are out, doing chores.

My job is not to get underfoot. My mother
left me here, but they have no games, no puzzles,
no books except an old Bible.

The barn—dark, cool, fragrant with hay—
is no place to play, Naomi says,
shooing me outside. Don't touch

the electric fence or go anywhere near
the sows—they'll devour a girl your size.
Don't wander into the cornfield;

you may never come out. Mind,
there are rats in the corn crib,
the kittens under the porch will scratch.

My legs aren't long enough to make
the porch swing swing. I count to a hundred
by twos. Grasshoppers whiz by.

Finally the uncles come, caked with mud.
They take off their work boots
and Caterpillar caps and we walk in together.

Dinner is at noon: ham, green beans, beets,
thick milk, peach pie for dessert.
But first we must wait for Grandpa

to stop praying. On and on he goes.
The window fan whirs. I close my eyes,
let the buzzing carry me far away.

Debra Kaufman is the author of the poetry collections God Shattered, Delicate Thefts, The Next Moment, and A Certain Light, as well as three chapbooks and many monologues and short plays. She is working on her fifth full-length play and a poetry collection. Her most recent poems appeared in Poetry East, North Carolina Literary Review, Tar River Poetry, and Triggerfish Review. She produced Illuminated Dresses, a series of monologues by women, in 2019 at Burning Coal Theatre in Raleigh, NC. Debrakaufman.info 

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