I have watched so much rot before me, and here now, two potential disasters. The pickled Korean cucumbers, the more serious of the two; I will need to build courage.
I reach toward the back of the refrigerator, and remove a translucent-blue container. Cheese I brought home some months before from Mercado Latino. Queso Oaxaca, half of the strings stripped and eaten, the rest, a disconsolate off-white moon with a glowing, yellow haze. I may be too late. I open the lid, breath in, and am pleased–only mildly pungent–not far from its original form.
I peel a small thread, from the middle of the broken center to the front, bring it to my lips, taste. Satisfied it represents only a moderate risk, I break off a wedge and fuse it with the slightly stale end of a loaf of French bread, despite there being a new one nearby in the cupboard. A sandwich is born.
I no longer pay for much food in my home–my lover’s primary contribution–but it unnerves me, the progression from vigorous to defective.
There has been so much. Take my knees for example. They have turned my world small. The bodies of four dogs that now linger in ash. The flesh between old friends that has torn and split and bleed. The narrowing of the tarsal-tunnels in my ex-wife’s feet; the pain receptors and neurons that turned it all sour.
But this cheese sandwich–it is evidence. I am a hero. I am an entire search and rescue operation. I will receive a medal. Something like a purple heart.
Rich Furman, PhD, is the author or editor of over 15 books, including a collection of flash nonfiction/prose poems, Compañero (Main Street Rag, 2007). He is professor of social work at University of Washington Tacoma.
I saw the way she pushed them –
flickering like river –
into the mound, turning what
was almost weightless
into substance, flour of air,
pinch of sea, sludge of yeast
she drained, slight foam
from the narrow bowl,
hard plane of her wide palm
pressing on counter, leaning
with her urgent weight, making
something live that was static.
The way her brain flew, fingers
turning dough into baby, white
dusting cabinets, floor, her face
a studied countenance of care.
The manner in which he held a hoe
as if it were a loved thing, what
can be leaned or relied on, his
intention sharp as a pine’s outline
on the ridge over the dark swamp.
Then swung it, swift cuts into dirt,
precise, methodical as a church bell
but sharp enough to kill a helpless
small thing. How he let me help
hammer iron stakes, string line
to make the rows. His hands
that raised the sledge above
our heads & released it over
& over. How I thought life would
always be like this, measured
even in cruelty, even in death.
Ellen Stone teaches at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her poems have appeared in Passages North, The Collagist, The Museum of Americana, The Citron Review, and Fifth Wednesday. Ellen’s poetry has been nominated twice for a Pushcart prize, as well as twice for Best of the Net.