The most difficult writing assignment I have ever completed was not on Fitzgerald or physics. When finished, it was only just longer than one page and filled less than half of the width of the page. Titled “Mom’s Little Flour Fairy,” it was a poem about my relationship with my mother.
Writing it wasn’t difficult because I have a tough relationship with her—she and I are pretty close. The challenge lay in stripping down the neatly constructed barriers I had positioned to separate my family life, social life and academic life. Though they kept me emotionally safeguarded, they also limited my ability to really grow and develop a voice in personal writing.
Fueled by Earl Gray, cheap cabernet sauvignon and smoked gouda, the poem finally took shape about six hours before the deadline. When it was fully drafted, I took a blanket and my glass of wine out to the porch swing and stared blankly into the shrubbery for a while.
According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am just barely an extrovert. In terms of my life, this one question margin means that I make friends easily, but that being in a crowd for too long exhilarates and stresses me out. If a day at work gets hectic and I tutor afterwards, I don’t go out for a drink, I curl up under blankets and knit. I also don’t like getting emotional around anyone—it makes me feel burdensome—but my amazingly caring group of friends has supported me and shown me that asking for support can be a sign of strength, not weakness.
When I got the poem back, my professor had noted that the poem was strong, but that it followed a tendency to distance myself emotionally from my writing. Since that assignment, I really haven’t written poetry. In fact, I haven’t written anything that had such an emotional resonance since that poem.
I hope that writing here may begin to scratch away at that wall and make me more comfortable with this different type of writing. Even if it doesn’t, it still allows me to set that as an intent for my writing and to start learning how to put it into practice.
Mom’s Little Flour Fairy
As the oven ticked up to 350˚, Mom circled flour on gray granite to catch the raw bread left rising under a red-checked dish cloth. Feet resting on the paint-splattered beige of a stepstool, my hands followed hers, spraying a fine wheat dust over our arms.
My mother tipped the metal bowl, releasing the dough to plop in the white circle. Another reach into the flour jar gloved our hands against sticky crumbs and left a powdery print when she tapped my nose.
Sneezy giggles became the soundtrack to shaping dough into square loaf pans and the legs and shells of lumpy tortoises, left laying on a dented cookie sheet boasting a margarine sheen.
Newly washed fingers wrapped in paisley heat protection wrestled a wire oven shelf until it could cradle the browning turtle as Mom’s little flour fairy tugged her apron to ask to place the pans for baking.
Fingers digging into metal, I transferred my creations to the oven’s rack, only loosing my grip when the 350˚ shelf caught my naked digit under the sheet’s weight.
Seeing reddened skin and salt tears pooling in my eyes, my mother shoved the oven door shut and pulled my fingers over to the cool stream of tap water flowing over our dirty dishes.
Years later, my mother scrawls a fresh card with our bread recipe to replace one with water-smeared ink and a surface coarse from a dozen years of dried batter.
As she turns to check the time, I pluck the card off the counter, folding faded corners into my palm as I groan assent to taking the old copy out with the trash.