Fold whites into batter —

Claire McQuerry

Such patience eludes me — to ease these beaten

whites beneath the denser substance

until the denser grows airy. Part with care, scoop

under, quarter turn of the bowl — grows airy

and rises. In a respite between freezes,

branches in the yard chandelier with rain.

Grandmother baked this cake each Easter

and on certain birthdays. Bloodlines are

mysteries. Her measuring cups surround me

in mute halos of flour. The thin, white sheet

where she’s scripted this recipe bears

no hidden message when lifted to the light:

only two prints at a corner where she touched it

once with a buttered thumb and forefinger. She wore

silk-collared dresses, and sometimes mink, lustrous

atop her skin’s bluish petals. What stories did she

tell herself about herself while she leveled

each measuring cup with a knife, sugar cascading

back into its bowl, flour settling through its own

rising cloud? By bloodlines I mean all of it —

the curve of a little finger, anger — blood

ties and likenesses. With child in San Francisco,

she’d watch drifts of fog haul across the bay until

her window went blank. If she planned escape then,

no one knew. Grandfather wanted everything

crisp, even his briefs. She’d press these weekly

and fold them in exact triangles that slept

beneath his stainless undershirts. Alchemical

what’s twined into DNA — not that gold

results. We never spoke candidly; what she wanted

from life is anyone’s guess. She had no garden

but cultivated a calm disposition, the shining

straight pins she’d drive through the borders

of dress patterns. The only time she fled,

mother was a child. Grandfather took a butcher

knife to kill the neighbor. “He would’ve

too,” mother said, “if we hadn’t gone back”:

Grandmother with her one suitcase. Mysteries

and toxins — “blood ties,” or, once “blood

threads.” Because they bind? She slept

in grandfather’s bed and baked a cake

each Easter for his forty remaining

years. He was not a religious man

but believed in ceremony. An ashtray

on the counter filled nightly. Grandmother

would bear it out before bedtime — ash

fragments clinging to her hands — to empty

at the base of the oleander: forbidden

shrub, of whose properties my mother,

and every child she knew, had been

warned at least a hundred times.

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