My mother taught me a few of her magic tricks
in the kitchen: How to crush a clove of garlic
with the heel of your hand
and watch the skin fall right off,
like a bride disrobing, her dress left behind
in a heap of tulle.
She taught me how to peel a hardboiled egg perfectly
leaving the smooth naked skin unblemished and reflective.
And how to wind off the thick glossy
jacket off the orange, leaving it whole,
an enchanted orange swirl you could wonder at.
It was a marvelous, pointless skill, just to charm me.
The way to toothpick a cake and harden sugar for candy
and make salted caramel fudge and
Because of her patience, I know how to
rumcake and sweetbread, how to gingerbread
and soufflé, the latter has a special prayer attached
and involves a studied quiet — “you must not make a sound!”
In the grocery store, she would knock on the melons
and assess the beans with secret knowing powers.
She was a necromancer of beets.
But it was green-black oval of the avocado that knew her
best sorcery. She could parse the contents with a single touch
and split one neatly and remove the heart
like the woodsman in Snow White.
“Never throw away the heart,”
she instructed. You keep it; leave it in the crushed
green flesh of the guacamole, salted and leaved
with chopped cilantro and garlic.
The heart will protect this stew
like a charm. “Leave it right in there,” she told me,
tossing a pinch of salt over her shoulder
where it rained on her perfectly glossed red brick floor.
“Remove the heart and before you know it,
the whole thing will go black.”
Elizabeth Cohen is the author of six books of poetry, most recently BIRD LIGHT, published by Saint Julia Press in 2016, among other works. The co-editor of Saranac Review, she holds an MFA from Columbia University and teaches creative writing at Plattsburgh State University.
Artwork: Sharon Foster