Melinda Clemmons

The Biscuit Cutter

It isn’t that I think I’ll use it
but I want it as soon as I see it
among all the other stilled items
in my grandmother’s kitchen drawer.

We’ve been told people will travel
from surrounding counties
to go through the house, buying up
books and hairpins, the lawn mower, 
a sofa bought before the war.

Whatever you want, 
says the man who’ll run the sale,
better take it now.

I have never, not once, made biscuits
but I want to keep something   
of those my grandmother rolled out
on her kitchen table while soup simmered
on the stove or her neighbor chatted
over a Lucky Strike, and the way she stood
for just a moment admiring the expanse
before sinking the cutter into all that softness
once, twice, two dozen times.

She would have known to keep the butter cold, 
not to worry the dough, and to bear straight down, 
careful not to twist.

She would have known tips essential to the use
of every item in her well-ordered kitchen drawer,
open now for strangers to rifle through.

By the door hangs her straw garden hat,
another thing I want no one else to have.

There is too much to keep.

There is how I knew her, 
and how I didn’t.

We find the large blue portfolio wedged into
a small opening in a wall in the basement,
a sheaf of sketches made in a life drawing class
at the university when she was nineteen.

Someone gasps.  We hadn’t known.

I think of her carrying the portfolio to the basement
as they moved the furniture in upstairs: the bassinet, 
the side tables, the lamp from her parents’ house.

I see her looking around for somewhere to stash
the drawings, away from the children’s
jammy fingers, someplace they’d be safe
for a little while.

The portfolio and all it held slip then
into that small airless space in the wall,

and she hurries back upstairs.


Back Home

We dredge catfish in cornmeal,
then set it sizzling in cast iron,
the clock on the stove broken at half past five.   

Our canvas shoes damp with lake water,
we stack the plates high,
draping a green onion over the top of each one,
a moon of lemon on the side.  
From the porch, we bring in the jar of sun tea,
pour it over ice, pass the glasses all around. 

We don’t say much. We just eat, 
turning the bones between our fingers, 
finishing with berries and cream. 

Outside, the evening breeze off the lake stirs the sweetgum, 
and we might glance as the leaves skitter across the porch.

I moved a thousand miles in one direction,
then two thousand in the other.  

Never has anything tasted better than the catfish
my grandmother set to sizzling in the cast iron,
near the clock on the stove, broken at half past five.


Melinda Clemmons lives in Oakland, California. Her stories and poems have appeared in The Cimarron Review, Kindred, West Trestle Review, Eclipse, 300 Days of Sun, Cavalier, and The Monthly.  She worked for over twenty years in programs serving children in foster care, and is now a freelance writer and editor in the child welfare field. She is a frequent contributor to the online child welfare and juvenile justice news site, The Chronicle of Social Change.