Cake by Arden Levine


It used to be just for special occasions, like birthday parties
or as a reward for behaving on a car trip. Now
I can eat it all the time, just like I told myself I would
when I grew up, even if there’s nothing special at all.

When I got married, I ate leftover cake out of Tupperware
for weeks. The wedding cake had vanilla frosting,
and each layer something different in between:
raspberry jam, chocolate ganache, orange marmalade.
There were also rehearsal dinner cakes, and those
were almond with hazelnut cream. It pleased me
to sit on the new couch with the Tupperware
and slide cake between my lips, mouthful after mouthful
into my young, lovely body. For a little while
after I divorced, I bought individual cake slices for dinner
and ate them with my fingers. Why not? I asked the empty living room.

It’s not that I have any particular fondness for cake.
It’s that it is usually delightful and desirable and a bit forbidden
in a way that women wish to be much of the time.

That pastry chef girl in the subway ads is
a hipster Betty Crocker. Her whole look is a triumph,
especially the horizontal-striped shirt, which reveals
a substantial bustline, clearly delectable as her baked treats.
Anyone would want to give her a big hug, or kiss that mouth,
which perhaps has a buttercream flavor. But I’d bet
she doesn’t actually devour those adorable cupcakes
(or she eats just one, like a good girl. Or takes just a bite
for the camera, even more sensible).

Some websites are devoted entirely to cakes, with pictures
and recipes and captions about who made them and why:
children’s cakes piped with boisterous cartoon text,
teacakes upon glass displays upon white wicker furniture upon
Technicolor grass, exquisite petit fours with gumpaste daisies
so real I expect that unwelcome insects try to pollinate them,
sheet cakes with fondant like ironed tablecloths.

But I get very sad somehow, knowing that these cakes will be eaten,
or worse, thrown away (or worse, that these aren’t even real cakes).

On one site was a story about a lady who threw a picnic party
and had made a meatloaf that looked like a carrot cake
(with mashed potato icing!) paired with small cakes
that looked like grilled cheese sandwiches.
Her guests were confused and delighted, because how witty
to create a prank that is also a meal and everyone has fun in the end.

Usually after dinner, I go running. I can’t run as far
as I did when I was younger, but I get some good thinking done,
or I daydream while I watch the scenery
fall slowly behind me. I have one daydream in which a man
with a very pleasant face presents me with a bouquet of roses,
and I have to look hard to see that the petals
are made of the most precisely sliced sections of cake.
Together, we peel them, one by one, away
from the stem and the stamen and feed them to each other.


ARDEN LEVINE’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Life in Poetry (a project of The Poetry Foundation), AGNI, The Missouri Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Rattle, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. Arden reads for Epiphany, holds an MPA from New York University, consults to nonprofit organizations, and lives in Brooklyn.