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I baked a cake for my mother

Joy Mao

I bake a cake for my mother

in a mixing bowl of stainless steel.

(as if that would remove the taint.)

I sift flour grounded from the depths of

my heart, through a sieve called

Sarcasm—no, Back-talking—I said no, Mother—



I measure half a teaspoon of baking powder,

hoping the cake won’t

rise like my temper like my mother’s rage

like salty, stinging, backwards

tears returning, because I can’t

let them fall.

Then I wouldn’t need the half-teaspoon of salt.

I bring out a second bowl,

marred in scratches but

still unstained deep in the centre of this

developing cage.

Then unsalted butter, softened—

not melted, free-flowing affection,

not solid, frozen, buried and

lying six feet under—I can’t

taste lips salty with lies, moisturized

by biting beads of poppies and

cracked—like eggs, two whole and one

stripped of yolk—transparent—

not anymore.

I add half a cup of sugar and my mother’s voice

says add less, that’s too much but

I want to taste my rebellion in every

falling grain, diamonds painted with

cold, biting refusal.

Saccharine vanilla seeps through, the alcohol

bitter on my tongue, but I know it could be

sweet—birthdays and card games and vacations

before, before I scratched this bowl

with shards of pride and uncaring

silence, stains that

won’t fade.

I pour in my awkward little affections,

chest(nuts) dissected to reveal thinly veiled shame,


The mixer is a storm in my hand,

controlled chaos longing—struggling

to be set free. Make a mess

of my innards, my deception

and truth, intertwined

inseparable vines that constrict apple chunks

and almonds—like both our eyes—shattered—

and I can’t find myself in this thick swirl.

The muted silver lining and copper stains

won’t carry into the pan—

let it turn deformed laughter to

de(tached) form(al) smiles, and

burn, burn away, burn my pretense into

every bite, burn my stubborn mouth and

comfort it. Sickening sweet armour

is not what she sees, just

decoration because she doesn’t

look at me.

I won’t let her look at me.

I baked a cake for my mother

with sharp pieces of me, before and after,

the raised corners of my lips stiff and numb

as I told her,

happy mother’s day.

I set the cake ablaze in the fireplace.

About the Author

Joy Mao is a Chinese-Canadian writer whose work has appeared in Red Pocket Magazine and the In Focus 2018 Anthology. Her favourite authors include Emily Dickinson and Jin Yong. In her spare time, she enjoys experimenting with different poetic forms (the sestina is a recent favourite), reading Chinese fiction, and playing guitar.

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