Croutons are bread left out to dry
I left you there, all nails and scraping sounds,
Putting ‘mother’ in a scrawl in Easter eggs, left scattered on the lawn,
One always left unfound. The crows trying to crack the plastic open,
Tearing it from the belly with their claws.
Once I left you, I moved to a new house: all clean linens, white walls, and card playing ‘round the resenting fire. The kind of small town that engulfs you, or reminds you who you’re still chasing, long after.
You both were cooks: the moms who mended me. And when I raced up the stairs, from the basement chirping of birds to the sun streaked rays of days coming and going, I serenely remember I was the only one
at this new home who drank the dregs
of coffee, and I wondered how they managed
It; how they kept their heartbeats glowing without
The forced stimulant in a heaping burst of coffee cups. How this family, and these people built friendships without bonding over the steam
Hanging between us.
&I halted. My eyes were pencil pricks on my forearms when teachers weren’t looking. My feet stood askew like the laces found on Converse Sneakers. I stood before the scent of croutons being baked, made from scratch, in this new house.
I looked around – whipping my head like ragdolls– as if my Mom could mysteriously appear. Did she find me after all? She found me: all baked clay and chandeliers of wine, dripping from her nail beds.
The daily reminder that She wasn’t here, and this other mom smiled at me, asking what was wrong.
A tiny crease wrapped around her forehead, as if it wasn’t used to being there.
It’s uncanny how the smell of baking bread can bring you back –
My Mom, on good days, made homemade croutons too. Usually on snowy days, the ones that dimpled and then dumped onto you, halting your plans.
She’d tell me you couldn’t forget
The broken bits, the bread gone old,
So you would bake it, repurpose it, and give it a new name.
I’m letting the bread dry, she said here now. Her eyebrow arching.
And I remind myself again:
I wasn’t in my childhood house,
I had to remember many times an hour, just like pythagorean theorem or sine + cosine equals tangent.
I had to remember it was a kind woman making croutons, standing before me now,
And I hoped they’d do it different.
When this new house, this new woman, walked away, shaking her head, slowly
Matching the tines of the forks laid gently in the drawer, as she unloaded the dishwasher,
I crept to the oven, turned the light on – slow and hazy –
Watching for the names to unfurl in steam,
Watching for my mama’s recipe to blink its name
In this new house.
Waiting for these croutons to be left out to dry,
So we could place it on beds
Sprinkled with cheese,
The way I was used to.
The bread, here, would be cradled onto spinach leaves, with spongy, approachable feta.
Or, put on top of broccoli or tomato bisque, until the broken pieces
Reminding me of nothing but the ways
We change loaves, and break them,
And find each other in the ways we
Crumble, the way we repurpose what’s left
Into morsels, as if to keep us
Leslie Cairns (she/her) is a poet from Buffalo, NY. She now lives in Denver. She has upcoming poetry/prose in Cerasus Magazine, Londemire Lit, and others.