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Martha churned yesterday
and again today.
Continuous up and down strokes
to separate the creamy oils from the water.
Her butter-maiden complexion
exudes a satiny luster
as she listens to Dvoraks' Pastoral Symphony.
churn, churn, churn.

"Martha, get me a quarter pound of yesterday's butter
and take off those headphones."
She's oblivious to my requests
as she gazes across the fields.
We've hired the Purvis boys
to help make hay.
As each bale is loaded there's a
churn, churn, churn.

They must be working fast,
Martha starts to sweat
and moves the cask closer
between her legs and holds it
in place with her thighs.
churn, churn, churn.
I slice the butter myself
and let the richness flow
into two cups of scalded milk.

The yeast is frothy
and fertile as it expands
above the bowl's edge.
A potent mushroom
of expanding ova
fed from amniotic sugar water
and the warm womb of the stove.
"Rose, have you fetched the eggs?
Mix three with a cup of brown sugar
and two teaspoons of salt, please."

Rose, my youngest, is only ten
and not yet aware of how significant
Bread Day can be.
Neither are the women in the room,
Gentleman Farmer's wives,
they've read of fertility
in textbooks.
But Martha knows.
churn, churn, churn.

I mix the moist ingredients.
Egg mixture to milk
and then the yeast,
always that order,
careful the first two
aren't too hot.
The fecund bubbly broth
eight cups of flour.

And then I knead
and think of John
as I'm sure he
is thinking of me.
He used to take breaks
from tilling and
mending fences and
seeding the land
to watch me knead.

That was before the kids,
before the neighbors,
and I'd stand, legs apart,
the front of my thighs against the table,
bent over, kneading the dough
and he'd knead my neck and back
and we'd have a natural rhythm
back and forth.
John knows.
Martha knows.
"Let them come." He said.
"It's too good to keep secret."

The dough, insidious pheromone,
rising in a bowl
in a pan of warm water,
sets blissful smiles
in the Great room.
Martha lets out a moan
as the last bale is stacked
and the Purvis boys disappear.
Knowingly, I tell her.
"Until you find the right one,
they always leave too soon,
but at least the butter's done."

While the bread is rising
Martha sauts sausage and
Rose grates the cheese and
I sit with the women.
The conversation is still about fertility.
"Of course I'm fertile,
look at how many children I have," Jane says.
They ask for my opinion.
"Fertility is a way of life,
not how many children you conceive," I say.
"Where did you read that?"
I keep quiet, startled they don't comprehend.
Rose will know before they do.
John said it would be hard.

I take the dough, roll it out.
"It's not coincidence" John said, "that
the countries known for romance
have phallic shaped loaves."
He calls it "lingam vitae."
I call it "delicious."
I think of John again
as sausage and cheese
is generously spread
onto the half-inch thick dough
and rolled up and placed in the pan
to rise again.

The bread, the long brown loaves,
need to cool before serving
but we can't resist.
As I cut the end slice,
steam and molten cheese
spurt out, "very fertile bread."
Martha agrees.
The women each have a slice.
Cheese drips down their chins
and they go home content
to make their own bread.

      — Mark Stacks