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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 finished a two-year run May 2020 as Eau Claire’s Writer-in-Residence. Retired from teaching creative writing at UW-EC, she writes poetry and fiction at home in a room with artwork, including a David Hockney lithograph discovered in a resale store.

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