993: Bundt Cake from Sam's Club

993: Bundt Cake from Sam's Club

993: Bundt Cake from Sam's Club

Please note that today’s episode contains mentions and descriptions of suicide. If this topic is difficult for you, please feel free to skip. We will be back tomorrow with more poems.


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Each year on July 13th, my wife and I visit a Japanese garden in Vermont, a ritual pilgrimage made in memory of her previous husband, who died by his own hands. The gentle contours and green slopes create a meditative outdoor space where we celebrate life. Like many, I’ve found a similar strength and transcendence in the silence of Mark Rothko’s chapel in Houston. Today’s poem unpacks the workings and limitations of sacred spaces — and the unexpected emotions they evoke.

Bundt Cake from Sam’s Club
by Lotte Mitchell Reford

Rothko’s New York was like Hopper’s 
New York at first, but no diners only bars 
and the subway—city beneath the city
holes through the core of it all like some
kind of rot like some kind of calling
throat and the bars on the subway the blue 
of a fist quietly clenched in a pocket the blue
of breath held in, teeth digging in
to a bottom lip on a frozen street. Rothko’s 
New York it lost focus it softened up at the edges,
whisky spins, bourbon fuzz. They made it
beautiful, took it apart. Take me apart.
Rothko was writing a book you know,
never finished. For months after I got to America
I took pictures of every bundt cake I saw.
They like to dress them up for occasions; 
red white and blue, sprinkles, sparklers,
that sort of thing. The thing is I was coming 
apart. I was a mid-period Rothko, bits
floating everywhere. Look at this cake,
I said to anyone who would listen, and showed
them the pictures I took at Sam’s Club.
When I thought of America it was Frank
O’Hara looking at trees, and bottled Coca-Cola,
it was Hopper and The Velvet Underground 
when they were young and wore stripes.
It slipped from black and white to technicolour.
In that America I became gilded, I fit right in.
But no! I became mist. I became vomit 
after a pickleback. A snapping turtle
uncovered itself in my yard, prehistoric, 
thirsty. I was jealous of its shell because I was a peeled
grape. I was jealous of its sleep schedule.
I was jealous of its purpose. I tried to help it
find water but there was a golf course
where the lake should be. Oh, turtle,
I said, you and me should be friends!
I looked in the mirror and my face 
was a rotten fruit. I guess what I mean
(and I have to guess because it won’t stay straight)
is that America is a shapeshifter and have you ever tried
to live inside something like quicksand, 
creating fetishes left and right? Desire. More.
A calling throat. That’s how we get here, a late color field,
a Houston church, an ancient buried creature
blinking and lost and lashing its tale 
and, so American, Rothkowitz, mouth full of pills, 
bleeding out from both wrists, holes in his core,
free-poured whisky spins, his arms opened up
to the world on the bathroom floor,
the bathroom floor a color field in a New York apartment,
and me in Virginia eating a bundt cake, plain
sponge under all that pizazz.

"Bundt Cake from Sam's Club" by Lotte Mitchell Reford. Used by permission of the poet.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, or know someone who is, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.