Jan Freeman

Eating the Madeleine
February 21, 2024 Freeman Jan

Eating the Madeleine



I remember the scut of it:
my mouth shut inside a smooth lawn
part emerald, part autumn novitiate
I envied the parochial-school kids across the street
for their bloody knuckles, the welts on their backs from the strap
those tangible markers of punitive love


They were effervescent, Peter, Robert, Sally
We played Mean Mother in their rose arbor, and every April
they donned their ribboned outfits for the Easter Parade down the shore
If I do anything well, I said to myself years later, picturing the rose arbor
let me be the queen of blow jobs
That will surely lead to love


At sixteen, I took pride in holding each phallus in my mouth
covering my teeth, softening and flexing my tongue
When we’re grown up, I thought, I’ll bump into the boys and we’ll talk travel
Peter with the pillow in his pants, the names of our children, prizes
I balance these porcelain plates on my head
in my rub-a-dub boat on my rub-a-dub sea



My mother was in her own leaky skiff
with one canvas after another, under unbuttoned coats of gesso
with thousands of drawings on placemats and napkins
from braids to bob to Audrey Hepburn look-alike
Stay still, my grandfather scolded, the ashes
from his cigarettes arcing towards her


Once there was a little girl who loved to double-Dutch
She was limber with the ropes
lived to please, pleased to live
Her father’s praise was value
Evil his scripture, idol the bible
She believed what she could muster, always obedient


The little girl grew up to have a little girl
who kept Dutch rabbits in a corncrib
Their ears met her one morning on the hay-lined floor
The fox stole our licorice bodies, the tiny rabbits said, weeping
Where are our feet? Where are our tails?
There was nowhere for the little girl to find them



Whoever put their hands around my throat when I was twenty
I didn’t run from since no one adores a whiner
I toughened up, endured whatever they were
with their founts of ululations
I was named for my uncle, who ran away from home
by enlisting in the Airforce and drowning off the coast of Greenland


May she be as brave as my golden boy, my grandmother said at my birth
I couldn’t rescue him though I wanted to
and still I believe he might return like Peter Pan
I was young once too, he will say, leaping from a window ledge
placing a hook through my third rib on the right side
From then on I will recognize approaching tides, icebergs, torpedoes


My deck, like the Ship of the Four Chaplains
is often short on life vests, which I cheerfully hand to others
treading water when I have to
I find myself dodging German U Boats in all weather
while my mother sits as still as possible, letting my grandfather’s pencil
or paintbrush depict her as he wants her

Jan Freeman is the author of three books of poetry, including Blue Structure and Simon Says, which was nominated for an NBCC. During a 2023 MacDowell fellowship, she completed her new manuscript, The Odyssey of Yes and No. Her poems recently appeared in North American Review, Salamander, the Brooklyn Rail, and Barrow Street. She directs the MASS MoCA Writing Through Art Poetry Retreats.