She makes the most beautiful cakes with her hands, my mother. They’re never too sweet.
Willem de Kooning remarked that, “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.” American, born in the Netherlands. 1904–1997. Woman I 1950–1952. Oil and metallic paint on canvas. I don’t remember the last time I made an oil painting. In high school, I dropped visual arts to take higher level economics. But I spent last summer using a brush to paint margarine onto aluminum baking sheets so the cakes my mother was baking wouldn’t stick. I helped her fold food coloring into bowls of buttercream. She makes the most beautiful cakes with her hands, my mother. They’re never too sweet. I’ve been helping her in the kitchen since the carpal tunnel. We don’t have a dishwasher. Washing buttercream from bowls, spatulas, knives, piping tips, more spatulas, more knives—it’s the most laborious chore. A film of it sticks to the skin; the hands, fingers, underneath nails. Growing up, my mother kept buying me expensive body butter that I never used. I didn’t have the discipline that beauty required. Sometimes I’ll smell someone’s perfume on the streets, that sweet moringa, and think of her. Her religious application on her hands, legs, underneath thighs. Hers was a religion I was never very good at worshiping. I never believed that I could ever become as beautiful as her, so why even try? I’ve only ever read Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty Is a Wound in its English translation. I wonder if I will ever be able to feel at home in my mother’s tongue. In our country beauty is a wound, but it has also been my mother’s salvation. Softness is vanity until it’s winter and your skin cracks and bleeds. Then you’ll know for certain that your mother had been right all along.