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Ava Leavell Haymon.
“Sestina In Which I Forgive My Mother Her Intentions.”

© Ava Leavell Haymon.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.

Our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name

thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth

as it is in heaven give us this day our daily bread

and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors lead

us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory forever amen

For two thousand years, folks have been saying amen

to that, repeating the lives and the names

of the saints as orthodox charms to stave off the evil

that seems to swell out of every gritty lump of real earth.

My family’s no exception, but in the way gold is teased out of lead

by the philosopher’s stone, my mother baked bread

that could rub the pain off a wet November day, a yeast bread

we’d wait hours for, watching it rise the way we hoped a man

would one day rise out of the crowd and lead

us away from all this. We’d drop our names

to take on his. By that one meek sacrifice, we’d inherit the earth,

mount up on wings like eagles, and with his help control the evil

born in our woman-flesh. Three daughters in one house. More evil

than one father and mother could handle and still get the daily bread

on the table. Three sisters — the Fates, the Triune Goddess (earth-

underworld-sky), the virgin-mother-crone trinity. Amen,

we’d snicker, to whatever witch-hint whispered the name

we knew in secret, the hidden life we’d none of us lead

openly. “Flesh will lead

you astray,” our father assured us: “The evil

flesh is heir to assumes many names —

greed, carnality, sloth.” Our mother agreed. But it was bread

she’d turn our idle hands to, her mother’s recipe, her grandmother’s, a man-

catching spell(his heart, through his stomach).It called for things of earth:

butter, cakes of yeast, fresh-milled grain that even smelled of earth —

oats, barley, wheat, sometimes rye when the mood took her. She’d lead

our squeamish hands through the sticky first steps, the kneading — “A man’s

hands would be too heavy,” she’d say — laying damp cheesecloth like a veil

over the deep crock bowl, the firm little knot of bread

dough hunkered in the curve like an egg. Hours later, she’d call our names —

the bowl rim would bulge over with honeycomb bread dough. Miracle of earth,

not heaven. My mother meant to lead us toward my father’s god, away from evil.

But her recipes bore the names of too many mothers;

her womb, too many daughters. We praise her. Amen.


My Mother & Granddaughter
My Mother and Granddaughter.


(from Marmee [my father’s mother] to my mother to me to my daughter to my granddaughters)

We make these every Thanksgiving, and the three grandgirls have done it every year since they could sneak bites of the dough.


Measure and mix together:


  1. Mix Flour-and-Salt into Liquid Ingredients, a cup at a time. Toward the end, it will be too thick to stir. You will then begin to knead the last flour into the dough. Continue to knead till the dough holds its own shape.
  2. Put dough into lightly oiled bowl or large straight-sided crock. Cover with damp cheesecloth or light kitchen towel. Let rise till double (a few hours, usually, if in a cool place. Overnight, if in refrigerator). Punch down.
  3. Let rise again until double. Punch down again. (You can skip this second punch, if you need to)
  4. Form dough into small rolls on baking sheets (lined with baking parchment). Leave space for them to double or triple in diameter. Brush with mixture of oil and water, so surface does not harden.
  5. Let rolls rise on baking sheet (in humid warmish place if possible) til about double, several hours, usually)
  6. Brush tops again with oil/water mixture just before baking. When I put the rolls in to bake, I throw water onto the BOTTOM of the oven so it fills with steam.
  7. Bake at about 400 degrees until lightly brown. (Rolls burn on bottom easily bec there is so much sugar in the dough. Parchment on pan helps, and also makes it easy to reuse cookie pans)

At least 4 generations of mothers and grandmothers will be in the kitchen with you.

— Thanksgiving, Baton Rouge

Text prepared by:


Haymon, Ava Leavell. Eldest Daughter. Baton Rouge: LSU Pr., 2013. © Ava Leavell Haymon. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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