Hand-stitching a hem, 
I listen to the cacophony
of other kitchens signaling dinner.  
Teach her to cook, my great-gran said,

She’s too pretty to be in the kitchen, but
teach her anyway
—so I learned 

to make shit on a shingle and
bathe collards in ham-hock water.

The first summer of my aunt’s tumor
I learned to make gumbo.

A seasoned staple she brought
back from being southern—

crab legs, sage sausage, 
chicken quartered on the counter. 

She went step-by-step,
hunched over the stove—

meds making her slower
than the tumor—but 

3,000 miles away
from everyone I love,

all I can remember
is the cool touch of corpse lips,
how to slow simmer okra to paste.

So, instead, I brown beef
chunk potatoes and onions, 

set a clock counting down
to tough meat and underseasoning.

Wishing I was sitting
across from her and my great-gran,

wishing they taught me
how to better protect myself—

bandaged fingers stirring stew
after every seventh stitch.