Heaven is a kitchen full of jadeite dishes. It’s here,
inside our little brick house on Grigsby Chapel Road.
Here, I am wearing my overalls, the ones made of
buttercream corduroy. I am four. I am standing
beside my mother, on a stool at the stove, still
I am barely tall enough to peer into the big, deep pot—
its waters gurgling, its copper bottom blazing. Yes,
heaven is here, and I am unwrapping the five or six
Kraft cheese slices from their plastic sheaths, carefully
folding them into tiny squares for my mother’s macaroni.
I put my squares into exquisite piles, while my mother
stirs and stirs with her long wooden spoon, a hand
at her other hip, massaging. I wait for her to pour in
the milk. I wait for her to tell me it’s time. And then
it is, and I drop them in, two by two—courageous.
I watch my squares start to melt and turn into strings.
My mother adds salt. My mother adds pepper. She stirs,
so the only sound is the sound of sloshing. The only light
is the warm yellow one above the stove, igniting the tops
of our heads. We are illuminated. We are hungry.
We take our jadeite bowls down from the cabinet.
They are empty and cold, glass planets in our hands.
They are the color of eucalyptus and French limes
and dollar bills. My mother used to call them jewel tea.
And so it was the consensus: elbows on the cleared
kitchen table. Should I take myself out
for a lemonade? No—I’ll think of the plumeria,
of fahrenheit, of lemon trees blown up
against the hillside. Dishes in the rack
need putting away. The oven needs
scrubbing. I consider sending postcards
or fuschia blossoms in the mail. I consider
a bowl of iced green grapes. I consider snaking
across the lawn in bare feet, spongy dawn
with a skillet for breakfast foods. I smell of
soap—all greasy with lemon, calling out
I am, I am, I am. I feel hung up on a wire machine
and electrified. Here, God holds his candle
to my candle, makes plums of my thin-skinned
gutters. Look up: he smiles from great heights.
If even just for now, his face is mine. I remember
myself as a little girl, stopping to uproot
a purple wildflower for him. I remember
the long sigh of the screen door to a stop. I watch
the sun with a squint. I hear him underground, scratching
with a nail. A sudden voice calls my name,
and I do not cry. I do not go to the window
to address the lingering frost. I remember myself
as a little girl, cross-legged—feeding God dandelions
in exchange for a plastic ring with a secret whistle.
In 1988, I was three pounds. In 1992, I was jealous
as I traced my fingers along an album’s edge—
my drunk daddy’s love for Eric Clapton.
I was wild and negligible, like the honeysuckle.
I stretched my sweet, leafy fingers
through the chain link fence, somewhere
in Tennessee, off the side of Grigsby Chapel Road.
I remember the brick house, the grey putter, the pain
beating at the back of my throat as I stood at the door
and waited for my father to come outside and play.
He was in love with Layla. I’d sit for hours
on the big stone by the garden, longing to travel,
stem by stem, to places only the sun can sift through.
I used to pick the okra and eat it raw. I used to dream
of being a tiny stray spark, the stacked kindling
at my father’s hearth. All the while, Layla blasted
from the inside out. I was just the yellow-green,
the nuisance flower, growing and curling my way
around a cold, metal spine. I only wanted to be loved
like Layla. Or, I wanted to be Layla, or to know Layla.
I wanted her to give me ginger ale. I wanted to swish it
from cheek to cheek. I wanted her to feed me berries,
to spread them out on the big stone by the garden,
to offer them each to me, one by one. I wanted her
to tell me it was okay to eat raw okra. I wanted to show her
that there were ferns growing inside my trusting, upturned
wrists, and for this splendor be unzipped and entered.
This I know for certain: I was muddy, but I was lovable.
I wanted someone to patch me up. I wanted someone
to lean down and kiss the bandages of my body.
Megan Denton Ray, a Tennessee native, is currently a poet in the MFA program at Purdue University. She is the recipient of the 2016 National Society of Arts and Literature Chapter Career Award. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Sun, Salt Hill Journal, Cimarron Review, The Adroit Journal, Emerge Literary Journal, Otis Nebula, and elsewhere. She is an old-soul, grandmotherly-type young person who is trying to figure out how to be a real adult without losing her sense of childlike jubilation. She’s fascinated with taxidermy, exotic plants, and anatomical oddities. She has an identical twin sister, a tiny birthmark that looks like a clover, and lots of Earl Grey tea.