A piece about family and food-making written by Krysten Hill, selected by Take’s poetry editor, Jill McDonough.
Krysten Hill teaches and writes poetry in Boston. Her first book, How Her Spirit Got Out (Aforementioned Productions), gives us a whole batch of poems as rich with family as this one, with its wrecked pie and found tenderness. You can feel the burn here as it happens: it feels like your own “wrist catches / on the metal lip of the rack.” I think that sudden physical vulnerability opens us up to what happens next, what has happened before, and all the tragedies big and small that we move through “like it’s no big thing.”
In this poem, as in so much of her work, Hill helps us feel the rich texture of real life—its hot stoves, fresh pies, and grieving. If we look carefully, we might even learn by example how to let our own minds “go into another room where it can be / unbothered.”
Never felt like my hands belonged anywhere
near my aunt’s kitchen unless
the food was already made
and I was fixing myself a plate.
When she trusts me with a job
as important as the sweet potato pie,
of course my hand shakes pulling it out
the oven, trying to make it look as easy
as she does, and my wrist catches
on the metal lip of the rack and I drop
what took me too long to peel
and boil and season in the first place.
There are worst things to fall to your knees for,
but I don’t know, in a black woman’s kitchen
this feels like a sin. Instead of casting me out,
she steps over the mess on her floor
and sets her eyes on my injury,
turning the puckering skin of my wrist
over in her hands, saying it don’t look that bad
like she’s done all my life when I broke
my face on the sidewalk or cut my own hair.
She starts over on another pie like it’s no big thing,
like she did when my uncle went into a bedroom closet,
and bit down on the barrel of his revolver. After
the funeral she stayed in the kitchen
even when company came and tried
to take over her grief. She just kept making
her own mourning feast, pulling heavy
pans out the oven. Like then, I watch her
mind go into another room where it can be
unbothered. While I nurse my burn with
the aloe she grows on the windowsill, she hums,
blending brown sugar and butter
to the soft boiled bodies of sweet potato,
her brisk cinnamon hand turning orbits
of gold in the cracked clay bowl
that stays steady on her hip.