These are just a few excerpts from the many inspiring selections in Muse 19. To order a copy and read the entire issue, please visit our Support the Muse/Order Copies page.
Laura Carroll, Recipe for Lemon Cupcakes
Recipe for Lemon Cupcakes
1. Take your grief. Form it into a small ball in your hands.
2. Zest a lemon or three or five. There are so many in your mother’s kitchen, and you have to do something with them. They can’t just molder in the fridge.
3. Chop the lemons and put them in a saucepan with sugar and water. Boil. Stir. Simmer. Stir more. It will eventually turn to marmalade.
4. Add your grief to the marmalade. It’s already bitter. It can take it.
5. Measure out your dry ingredients in a bowl, mix, and set aside.
6. Beat up defenseless eggs and butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and lemon zest, and beat again.
7. You forgot to preheat the oven, didn’t you? Turn it on now.
8. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in batches, mixing thoroughly and scraping down the sides with a spatula after each addition.
9. You have a cupcake tin somewhere, don’t you? Find it, along with the leftover cupcake papers from several Halloweens ago. The ones with skulls.
10. Spoon the cupcake batter into the tin, until each papered cup is half full. Carefully place a spoonful of marmalade in the center of each cupcake, then cover with additional batter.
11. Bake for 20 minutes at 350, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean except for the marmalade.
12. While the cupcakes bake, raid your parents’ liquor cabinet. Pour yourself a glass of the single-estate cognac that your father never had the opportunity to drink, and bring the limoncello to the kitchen.
13. Beat up another defenseless stick of butter to make the frosting, and add more powdered sugar than you think the butter can hold. Keep beating it until it’s mostly incorporated, then add a liberal dose of limoncello and watch the alcohol smooth out the frosting as you continue to beat.
14. Remove the cupcakes from the oven. Allow to cool.
15. Improvise a pastry bag from a Ziploc sandwich bag. Pipe the limoncello frosting onto the cooled cupcakes.
16. Share the finished cupcakes with your assembled family. Everyone agrees that they are delicious. No one comments on the bitterness of the marmalade inside.
Bob Daly, Why Does It Matter That
Why Does It Matter That
Yu Darvish, pitching for the Dodgers,
quickly lost two games in the World Series?
Because he was well-mannered
when speaking of his failures
to fans and his teammates? Or—
Because when younger I too
was sometimes badly beaten
as a pitcher?
Why does it matter that
sixty years ago
the leaders of the great city, the university, the hospital,
the medical profession, the educators believed it “good”
for young doctors—men and women—
to care one hundred and thirty hours a week
for people who were indigent, sick, and dying?
Because their work saved more lives than it cost?
Because it was cheap, high quality labor? Or—
Because now I know that
we harm one another when
we are wrong about what is “good”?
Why does it matter that
Two of my children did not call me today?
Because they are busy with others,
with the world, with their problems ? Or—
Because I am sick and lonely?
Why does it matter that
I hear the sound of a fan
blowing behind me when
there is no fan blowing behind me?
Because I have water in my ears? Or—
Because I am about to have a stroke?
Why does it that matter that
I then find myself asking,
Was I lucky in love?
Because I have been pressed down
since Elizabeth departed? Or—
if the sound of a fan is not
a prelude to oblivion,
I will not be so lucky?
Mary Gardner, Now That You Mention It,
Now That You Mention It,
how do we measure
the universe of the downsized life?
in corners and rooms, stairs and square feet?
digital connections and competence, more or less?
in the choice of reusable market bags—
something sturdy and small, for shopping day by day,
perhaps a souvenir from street markets in Vienna or Bogota?
in the number of place-settings? the vintage of table and chairs,
china and stemware? the telling features of menu and recipes?
in the roads taken or not taken, the time of day for meeting up?
in opting for a small sensible vehicle, yet hankering for a canvas top?
in keeping the lustrous, brass-hinged Jennie Lind trunk—
maps and notes on journeys taken, others to come?
Now that you mention it,
how do we measure
the universe of the downsized life
when one’s abiding sense of life is not quite downsized?
Nina Bannett, My Mother and Ellen West
My Mother and Ellen West
In the hospital I watched them objectify,
reduce her to a large mass of unknown origins,
students coming in to chat and learn from
the end of someone dear.
Thank you for taking the pain
out of my day.
In another context her assertion could have functioned
as a suicide note. Ellen West leaves the hospital
and dies. Internalizes her desire not to be.
The clinician in each of us wants to reach
out, smooth over the soul, strive for
An attachment to me.
I had her own notes of the self.
I threw them out. I thought the time she spent on them
wasteful, the categorization, all that mindfulness,
overwhelming inner material that I could have fashioned,
a walk through fire.
The hospital is an object that cannot contain
the subject. All my life I’ve known this fear.
The object is the subject. My mother was a series of index cards
where she recorded feelings,
the nurses’ psychiatric notes, treatment plans.
All these organized around an interior, the self.
Not just its parts but her whole.
I am a second person from a first person who changed
the first person to a second manic person, then a third depressed person.
I was interior, then exterior, then interior as exterior.
She was my interior,
my mother, the application of a series
of psychiatric principles.
My walk through her fire, my inner material.
Sarah Kuhlman, Rage
what you would take from me
I consume and assimilate
what you can’t see in me
I add layers
dressing in armor
what you refuse to hear me say
I pad and stuff myself
muting my screams
I grow large
changing into scrubs
in nurses’ locker rooms
she surrenders her thoughts
for a man’s presentation
so others will listen
securing the mortgage
her name on the deed
her husband is listed as owner
delivered from her body
her children bear
their father’s name
and so she ate
and ate and ate
and no one dared notice
I burn my banner
I squelch my rebellio
Not to walk the runway
or join the olympics of lust
Not to be
what I am told I should be
small, boyish, passive
I am a woman warrior
exhausted by the weight
Slavena Salve Nissan, candy store
at 3 o’clock or so
they start coming in
and then a whole
stream in need of an extra kick
to get through
all very particular
mini chocolate chip cookies
for the NICU nurse
in that green package
please tell me that you have them
we lost two babies today
for the medic
i’m working way too much overtime
wait, what day is it?
i think i have a date
in 3 hours
a caramel pretzel hazelnut chocolate bar
for the vascular surgeon
who just repaired three ruptured aneurysms
i dreamt of blood last night
three diet sodas
for the cardiology fellow
at least it’s diet
i need to keep the weight off
i’m getting married on sunday
and as for me?
to those little candies
the blue ones