To Matlou

My grandma and I spend the morning cleaning collard greens. We
pick the leaves from their stems, turning them over for bugs and soil. Real

               quiet we stay, searching for signs of life we don’t want to consume. Cool
               air pushes from the AC but a sticky heat still lingers in the walls. We

place the greens in a pan of water, rinsing them of whatever is left
that our eyes can’t catch. A monarch is trapped in the kitchen window. School

               showed me how they begin as wingless and isolated things before we 
               watched them burst into something that is no longer grounded & the lurk

of that forgotten vessel is the only indicator that they were never free. Before it gets too late
I open the screen & the monarch turns into a suspended blur of fire, headed straight

               towards the sun like it’d rather combust to ash than feel solitude once more. We
               start making a pound cake as the kitchen walls slicken with sudor. I never sing

while baking but grandma starts in on a song about the danger of sin
like a women’s loose legs, a thieving child, or the joy we

               find in taking back something that was always ours to begin with. Thin
               becomes the sunlight as it lacerates the blinds.  Grandma swigs gin

to soothe an ache in the remaining real teeth she holds onto. We
taste test the cake batter, thick with vanilla extract & fine flour while Jazz

               seeps out of the kitchen speaker. Grandma does a slow sway as if June
               nights like these are what she’s always hungered for. In her kitchen, we

pretend to play the saxophone, breathless with laughter & song like we’ll never die
like the cake won’t ever go stale, the collard greens won’t sour, and the night won’t end soon.

Zakiya M. Cowan
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