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My mother wasn’t a baker
in the ordinary sense. No
three-tiered cakes with strawberries
marching the frosty perimeters.
No éclairs sliding from the oven
for treats on Sundays. Sure,
once in a while she measured
out flour. Both of us in aprons
with rickrack on the pockets,
we kneaded the dough on the
kitchen counter

rolling it out on a wooden board
coated with more flour, as we
attempted a pie, or punched out
stars and hearts and crescents
for cookies. But mostly we relied
on the bakery two blocks away
where bread in white paper bags
and sugar cookies sparkling on plates
were good enough.

Instead, another oven sat like one
turret of a castle in the corner of
the kitchen. Round and built by her
of firebrick, my mother also wired it
herself. “How big is it?” someone
might ask. My mother would smile,
hold one hand far from another, say,
“Big enough to fire a vase this tall.”
She and I often sat at the kitchen table
rolling gray clay, dampening it
with a real sea sponge, pressing out
pots and vases and bowls. It was
no secret what went on in our kitchen,
but it felt like one.

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Karen Loeb grew up in Chicago, and has called several states home since then: Ohio, Florida and, since 1988, Wisconsin. In 2008 her daughter, she, and her husband went back to China, their daughter’s birthplace, for an extended stay. Her poetry has appeared recently in The New Ohio Review, The Cape Rock, Hanging Loose and elsewhere.

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Wisconsin Academy Administrative Offices and Steenbock Gallery
1922 University Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin 53726
Phone: 608-263-1692

James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters
3rd Floor, Overture Center for the Arts
201 State Street
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: 608-265-2500