Learrning to Make Pickles by Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

August in the kitchen, humid
inside and out. Blue jays have squawked
all summer, their azure and gray bodies
appearing on the deck chairs, on the lips
of plant containers, their discordant songs
a rasp through hazy air.

My search for stock pots
large enough to hold canning jars on racks
has consumed the past two days.
Cucumbers, picked this morning, lie
sliced in my biggest bowl, mixed
with onions, pickling salt, and three
cloves of garlic.

Last night, I listened to a local poet
talk about beauty in daily details.
She should come to my kitchen, sit
at the counter while I muddle
through my first canning experience.

I hope I don’t make a mistake.

Just last weekend I learned my mother canned food
before I was born, saved something of summer.
Was this really the same woman who
sometimes burned Totino’s Frozen Pizza
on Saturday nights because she did not
want to stand in the kitchen
to keep watch?

Show me the connection.

I know I am her daughter in ways
I dislike yet I’ve come to appreciate
her more of late, realized there is so much
I do not know about my introverted
secretly feminist mother. Sometimes
a discordant blue jay song triggers an
image of her dissatisfied face as she stared
at the parenting role before her, as she wished
for nothing but to be
left alone.

Sometimes I see her staring back at me
from my own daughter’s face
and it scares me.

Cooking is my armor, my dam that stops the flow
of memory that holds early definitions
of myself. I seal today’s efforts,
freshly sliced, in sterile glass jars, place
them on a shelf.

Come winter, the blue jays will still
be here, stark against the snow, silenced to me
by closed windows. Then, I will open
a simple jar of pickles, savor this small
attempt at preserving
all that is good.

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