I was eating my pancakes
Aunt Jemima’s Buttermilk and Liquid Maple Sugar
My mother comes out
and stares at my panqueques.
She moves stonily around the kitchen floor
until I ask her what’s wrong.
She answers in a voice
that so blatantly defies herself.
but I shouldn’t have.
“No really, what’s wrong?”
She whips around and repeats with an edge to her voice
her volume creeps higher and higher
until it’s practically a shout.
I look at her with doeful eyes
and nod a tiny little nod.
I avert my eyes back to my plate
where the flat, round cakes can’t admonish me.
She asks me a question
and I stutter an answer in reply.
Her eyes take on fire
and she yells, asking
why must I stutter?
Answer concisely or not at all!
She comes over to where I am
picks up my plate
and throws it across the kitchen.
By the time I leave for school
there are pancakes on the floor.
The next day my father takes down the box of Aunt Jemima and bottle of syrup
lays them out on the table
and hums a tune while he fries the cakes.
My mother goes out to the kitchen
and pretty soon I hear shouts and banging
Screams of insult and defiance.
What will the neighbors think?
They were never friendly to start with
unknown to me why they ever decided to get married.
And many a night, I’ve endured complaints and threats
of my mother divorcing my father.
Then I hear a familiar sound
It’s the sound of a Corelli plate hitting the kitchen floor
I don’t want to go out to the kitchen
but it’s the only way out.
I slink into the living room and creak open the door
I try to leave without being seen
but before I’m out, I see
there are pancakes on the floor.
When I return that night
the syrup is still standing on the table
and the frying pan tilted at an odd angle.
The sink is a mess
and there is an odd air of finality in the room.
I creep into my mother’s room
heart beating quickly
urging the rest of me to catch up or lose.
I lift open my mother’s makeup drawer
slide her closet door aside
search her underwear drawer.
I don’t blame her.
She was a woman unrightfully pushed past her limits.
Stories of the injustice encountered at work
would accompany her threats of divorce.
No one can blame a woman
whose boss yells at her daily,
threatens to fire and hire somebody else constantly,
and orders her to clean as if she were a maid for him personally.
Or swears in her face and then calls the police on her unjustly.
She left a copy of a plane ticket on my desk
with a note saying the three most treasured words in the human language.
On a pink post-it and a heart
were the two most infamous words in the human language
said at every break up and every funeral,
two very dark words that signal the end of something.
To choose between the two
life with my mother or life with my father
is a very hard thing to do.
I love them both
and I cry to Providence why they couldn’t be happy together.
My life, the one that has to be torn apart
Like a pancake split right down the middle.
In the morning I get up and dress
Pad out to the kitchen
where my father is sitting sullenly at the kitchen table.
I retrieve the papers and show him
and he sighs and rubs his face.
He doesn’t cry;
He’s not a man of emotion.
Today there are no pancakes littering the kitchen tiles.
There is no syrup or frying pan, no yelling mother to reopen an old sore.
There are only teardrops on the floor.