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One spring when we were children she placed the red cake
on the table. What kind is it? we asked. Cherry, she said, but we had
never seen frosting that red. More red than tulips, more red than her lipstick
or nails. It was a holiday and we were all very hungry, but when she set
it on the table my father went mad, rubbing the frosting all over his face
then babbling like a clown. My sister stood on her chair and began crowing
like a rooster. Our dog snarled at it, then ran outside in circles
before collapsing on the grass. I remember dreaming of barns, hundreds of them
all filled with yellow hay. Finally we all ate. We ate
it ravenously in big handfuls, stuffing it into our mouths, but the more we ate
the more of it remained, while mother watched, laughing, never
laughing so loud. Then we all went outside and stood on the green
lawn. We are standing there now as the sun comes out and the snow
begins falling and the swallows curve and glide around that cake’s steep walls.
Mark Irwin is the author of nine collections of poetry, including A Passion According to Green (2017), American Urn (Selected Poems 1987-2014), Tall If (2008), and Bright Hunger (2004). His collection of essays, Monster: Distortion, Abstraction, and Originality in Contemporary American Poetry, appeared in 2017. He is a professor in the Creative Writing & Literature Program at the University of Southern California.
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