When I linger over the stove’s concentric fire, I remember the first burgers I made in your filthy bachelor’s kitchen. I held the heft of beef like a brick; it ached for a window to slaughter. Raw hands deep in the raw meat, I broke it into four pieces, then rubbed each hunk’s edges smooth. The mud-colored patties—alight on chintzy buns—still bore the marks of a grinder: wormy tracks in their midst, the paths of maggots through a body. But I got better at cooking, better at forgetting the shackle of dinners on the table at five. Helpless husband, marzipan prince in your father’s suit: you never knew how you grew up or whether. Think of the night you called to ask how to brown the beef yourself. At thirty you didn’t know a thing about cooking, so I paused at a dinner five states away. I should have told you to call back later. Instead I froze beneath a streetlamp, tried to describe the thaw of pink beef going brown as autumn leaves. And why wouldn’t I: at home, that smells good was the only compliment I’d get in a week or a month—our little horseshoe kitchen a court I held sway over. The way to a man’s heart and all that. Then I let you go. You let me go. And now I’m struck anew by Mama’s advice about browning beef: she warned that just because it looked ready didn’t mean that it was. If you’re patient, all that heat makes something delicious, but it’s hard to wait when you’re starved. Dear, foolish man: I was still pink inside. But I was so proud of that terrible meal. We ate it, gray and bland, and I cooked a thousand more.
Born and raised in the Midwest, Caitlin Cowan’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Pleiades, Anomaly, SmokeLong Quarterly, Entropy, and elsewhere. A semifinalist for the Boston Discovery Poetry Contest and a finalist for the BOAAT Book Prize, she’s won the Littoral Press Poetry Prize, the Mississippi Review Prize, the Fugue Poetry Prize, and an Avery Hopwood Award. She’s taught writing at the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University, and Interlochen Center for the Arts, and serves as the Director of International Tours at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Find her at caitlincowan.com.