Three Variations of Raspberry Jam

devin-rajaram-28791This is the promised partner poem to “Glass in Our Tortillas.” An old poem, that tells the story of food, friendship, and having daughters. 

Three Variations of Raspberry Jam

for Julie

Each afternoon we drank atole,
Julie and I, in the shadows of the descending sun
and laughed, at our lives, ourselves,
at her intolerance for carelessness—
as I brushed and braided her snarled hair;
at my disdain for dishonesty—
as she doused and expired the fires of my dramatics.

Julie made tortillas, and served them fresh and warm, to me
with peanut butter, jam, and rich creamed coffee.
I baked Tollhouse cookies, varying the recipe
so she would beg for the secret of their texture,
so she would always ask for more.

We wailed for our mothers who fought
the same cancer with similar courage
on chemo floors two thousand miles apart,
and some mornings we walked to the schoolyard
to watch the sun climb over the Organ Mountains
because we believed in that silence.

But no sooner had she moved in than she shrugged
our genuine time behind and went south
to Ecuador to admire dark women balancing bottles
and baskets on their slippery black hair.
Julie scaled silver icy slopes with sharp teeth
attached to her lightweight boots
by her new boyfriend who held her perspiring hand
the entire way and still has not let go.

They moved to a lake in Seattle to sip Folgers
at dusk, promising forever to each other
and feeding the ducks cookie crumbs.
I sat at my small table alone in the tiled dining room,
where I witnessed her absence take the shape of a womb,
so swollen and hushed, so round and calm,
bulging with the down of her sweet missing voice.

I crawled into that emptiness, curled up
with the contractions and waited
for her to answer my letters or calls.
My first daughter arrived, and my mother’s cancer left
that frail body at last.

My home regained its ability to make laughter echo
from the walls and songs bounce on the furniture,
music dance down the halls.
Pink plastic bottles full of my expressed milk
lined the refrigerator shelves
still full of Julie’s sticky glass jars:
Family-Size Skippy Peanut Butter
and three variations of raspberry jam.
I threw them all out and removed her
number from my automatic dial.

A letter on loose leaf, dusty and yellow
announcing that her mother had died, reached me
months after Julie had buried her under a tree
on the family farm.  The loopy script threatened
that our friendship could evolve
only if it lacked the definitions
I relentlessly attached to it.

She sent a book of fairy tales for my toddler,
a bib that said “Spit Happens” for my new baby girl,
and a bag of soft round homemade tortillas for me.
There was accidental glass in the tortillas.
Small sandy shards that drew
no blood but scratched the enamel of my teeth.

Now, each afternoon, I wipe peanut butter onto wheat bread,
smother it with jelly and serve it with juice
to my daughters who have filled the void
I tried to stuff with Julie.
I sip espresso applauding my toddler’s somersaults
and mimicking my baby’s firmly shaped “oh!”
and I know I wouldn’t mother Julie now.

My girls drop chocolate chips into the bowl
of dough, eating more than lands on the pan
and staring proudly as the cookies flower
in the oven’s dull heat.  They promise
to finish all their dinner
if I let them have “just one more.”

Someday, they too will leave, when they no longer need
me, and I’ll pray for their safe return
so we can begin again as friends.

First published in Puerto del Sol.

Image by Devin Rajaram on



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