A photo of a vintage quill pen with a hot pink feather in an inkwell sitting on a wooden table

Bread Pudding Grandmamma

By Darrel Alejandro Holnes
Gallatin School of Individualized Study Faculty

We crack open the coconut and
        mix the fluids of el coco with cow’s milk
like I mixed words with grunts and moos when
        speaking with my childhood fable friends.

My grandmother teaches me her recipe for bread pudding when
        I come home heartbroken from high school.
Together, we bake everyday pains into guilty pleasures.
        We mix torn apart bread-loaf backs into the batter—

always mixed in a ceramic bowl—
        and watch them move like tectonic plates.
I turn the earth at force with my spoon like
        turning through stages of teenage rebellion where
nothing stands firm beneath my feet and
        my mind, like bread, is an uneven sponge.

I add in brown sugar, to taste, she says,
        and eat some as we bake to feel
better about being called a brownie today in class—
        a little glucose for her day of tasting tears that
run down her cheeks as old age
        runs with my grandfather’s mind.

We add white sugar, then vanilla, no almond extract,
        unless her monthly check has come in time.
If it hasn’t, our palette will taste a richer sweetness—
        the soulful truth of Caribbean cuisine:
almond absence brings the vanilla out more.

        Our hands mush together our pains with
a few grains of salt, for style, she says, with
        a few slices of butter, the secret to life
in each mixing bowl.

I’m the darling grandchild,
        her favorite, I believe.
At school there is trouble
        and medication for her is expensive,
so we make bread, bake bread,
        the sweet kind to satisfy our appetite.

She digs from the bottom of a jar for
        fruits soaked in wine—
Only the best ones.
        We add this last.

This is what gives it that taste man,
        any liquor is all right.

She talks, I smile.
I believe her old hands and weak eyes
        but strong legs and big smile.

We empty it into the pan,
        bake it, and trade our worries for the aroma.
We breathe in the perfume of
        hard work on a hot afternoon,
forget that children can be mean,
        and that with wisdom comes age,
but with age comes ailment.

        Bake for one and a half hours,
and devour.

From Stepmotherland by Darrel Alejandro Holnes. © 2022 by Darrel Alejandro Holnes. Reprinted by permission of University of Notre Dame Press.

Photo credit: BrAt_PiKaChU/Getty Images