“The Right Ingredients” by Marne Wilson

It is any summer afternoon of my teenage years.
Once his soap operas are over,
my father goes outside to work alone.
I get to stay inside in the coolness
while my mother takes her nap.
I think I’m supposed to be washing the dishes,
but I never do.
Instead, I gather my ingredients
to make illicit baked goods.

There’s a reason I spend my precious solitude this way.
When my mother bakes, she never follows the recipes.
Sometimes she gets confused,
beginning on one page of the cookbook
and then switching in the middle of the project to another.
But even when she keeps her attention on the task at hand,
she has to make her own modifications.
Sugar, salt, and butter have little place in her kitchen;
she says those things are bad for us and better left untouched.
Her bread is like a doorstop and her cookies are like rocks,
but she never learns the lesson.

One year I try to force her hand
by doing a science project on food chemistry.
I order books from the state library
that tell me salt is necessary to help bread rise
and sugar is needed to give a cake structure.
Then I do the experiments to prove this myself.

My controls seem nice enough
to please any judge at the county fair,
while my test batches, each missing one crucial ingredient,
reflect my mother’s typical results.
Townspeople praise me on the creativity of my project
and ask where I got this idea.

I smile vacantly, as my mother has taught me.
She knows that what matters
is the way things look on the surface
and not how they feel inside.

Marne Wilson lives in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Her poems have appeared in such places as Poetry East, Atlanta Review, and Cold Mountain Review. She is the author of a chapbook, The Bovine Daycare Center (Finishing Line, 2015).