Making Breakfast

There's this ritual, like a charm,
Southern women do after their men
make love to them in the morning.
We rush to the kitchen. As if possessed.
Make one of those big breakfasts
from the old days. To say thank you.
When we know we shouldn't. Understanding
the act smacks of Massah, looks shuffly as
all getout, adds to his belly, which is bad
for his back, and will probably give him
cancer, cardiac arrest, and a stroke. So,
you do have to wonder these days as you
get out the fat-back, knead the dough,
adjust the flame for a slow boil,
flick water on the cast-iron skillet
to check if it's ready and the kitchen
gets steamy and close and smelling
to high heaven, if this isn't an act
of aggressive hostility and/or a symptom
of regressed tractability. Although
on the days we don't I am careful
about broiling his meats instead of
deep-fat frying them for a couple of hours,
dipped in flour, serving them smothered
in cream gravy made from the drippings,
and, in fact, I won't even do
that anymore period, no matter what
he does to deserve it, and besides, we are
going on eighteen years so it's not as if we
eat breakfast as often as we used to,
and when we do I now should serve him--
forget the politics of who serves whom--
oatmeal after? But if this drive answers
to days when death, like woolly mammoths
and Visigoth hordes and rebellious kinsmen,
waited outside us, then it's healthy, if
primitive, to cook Southern. Consider it
an extra precaution. I look at his face,
that weak-kneed, that buffalo-eyed,
Samson-after-his-haircut face, all of him
burnished with grits and sausage
and fried apples and biscuits and my
power, and adrift outside himself,
and the sight makes me feel all over
again like what I thank him for
except bigger, slower, lasting, as if,
hog-tied, the hunk of him were risen
with the splotchy butterfly on my chest,
which, contrary to medical opinion, does not
fade but lifts off into the atmosphere,
coupling, going on ahead.

"Making Breakfast" from Out of Canaan by Mary Stewart Hammond.

Copyright © 1991 by Mary Stewart Hammond. Originally appeared in The New Yorker. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.