Sunday, February 5, 2017

flour, water, salt, yeast

Jasper Johns "Bread" 1969

     After school, week-ends, on summer break I am at the pottery throwing pots, dreaming I’ll apprentice to a stern Japanese master and my life will be set. At home, in my mother’s kitchen with floury hands, palms pushing, lifting, folding, turning, I practice Japanese spiral wedging technique on warm yeasty dough. The repetitive motion burns my burgeoning triceps. I see my arms as I imagine them seen. In doing I am also posing. With each thrust braless nipples graze the inside of my sleeveless tank top. My hips gently rock. Black curls sway.
     Kneading develops wheat’s tightly curled proteins. The proteins lie dormant until hydrated and prodded by floured hands. There is no hurrying the process. In time awakened proteins unfurl and tangle, weaving a lattice that traps the yeast's breath enabling the bread to rise. 
     In my kitchen now a mixer does this labor but when my hands gather the dough I feel that seventeen year old inside me; not time’s passage but the actual girl-me as if we are nesting Russian dolls. My hands shape the dough into a crystal ball. I see widened girth, drooped breasts, greyed hair, and strength the girl didn’t yet know. And I am not sure, do I see my own coming frailty or is that my mother’s deathbed repose forever etched on my brain? I tuck the ball into an oiled bowl and cover it with damp cloth.
     The drying residue of dough turns my hands to artifact. I pick at the flour in the crevice of my nails. The most radical thing that girl-me’s hands had ever held was Bobby; tentative tender hands that softly stroked until he was stiff, swaying, and awesome. My mother had recently remarried. We had new furniture. They bought a weekend cottage get-away and we were so relieved for the space between us. My life was in the city at the pottery and playing house, waking next to Bobby in my parent’s double bed. The potters, ten years my senior came for supper at my parent’s oak table. Thick soup in stoneware bowls, buttered bread, raucous chatter. We’d sip from hand thrown goblets that often tipped. I’d frantically mop the spilled Burgundy least evidence greet my parents on their Sunday night return. 
     When the dough has doubled, punch down, pat flat, roll into a bundle to fit inside the pan.

     To pass time the years I sat with my mother when she could no longer speak I’d inspect our hands side by side; hers yellowed, gnarled, curling in upon themselves, mine marked by callouses and cooking burns, becoming crackled like porcelain glaze. My hands have picked up pieces, settled, held, and released, sometimes with love, sometimes despair. Where was my mother’s guiding hand? If I dig deep enough will I find her embrace? 
     In its given time the yeast ferments the dough. In the oven there is a last burst of energy. As the internal temperature rises crust forms and wheat’s natural sugars caramelize, perfuming the kitchen. The scent of bread is a dream. An imagined home. Tap the bread to check for doneness--it will sound hollow. Pull the loaf from the pan. Cool.
     I step back from the hurts I grasp so tightly and see my mother too had picked up, settled, held and released. Differences stem from the flow of time. She sucked the marrow out of bones and liked dry ends from supermarket loaves. Thrift, self-depreciation, simple pleasures? I like a center slice. I eat the crust as an obligation, eating around the edges, spiraling inwards towards a toasted buttered heart.

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