Good Food 


Eating a bruised McIntosh apple lifts me out of Chinatown where no one is cheering on this hot Indian Summer.  Feeling the soft spot through the skin under the thumb in time with a bite brings back dirty hands reaching for fruit, twisting the gift from the branch.  I am on mother’s shoulders for no other child will do.  One brother, too heavy, the other, too little.  He may get hurt.  If I take both hands from her face I will fall, but I need both hands—one to steady the tree limb and one to pull.  The October sun in my eyes, I let go and reach.  I grasp the branch and the fruit…Or do they—the branch, the fruit—move into my hands to steady me? I do not fall.  I toss the apples, 29 cents a paper bag, to the ground and my brothers scurry to collect them.  They are gold!  Apples are food—good food, filling, cheap.  No matter if it’s brown.  Mother says, Cut it out!  Or wormy.  It’s protein!  I don’t have to eat this apple. Now, my fridge is full of organic this and natural that.  I did not pick it.  I don’t have children I need to feed.  I don’t need to cook.  There’s 20 bucks on the coffee table and a Prosperity Dumplings three doors down.  I eat around the bruise, chew down to the core, every piece of flesh possible before I hit seed.  I don’t know when I’ll eat again.  I’ve stockpiled leftovers from school lunches in the back of my bottom dresser drawer—half a peanut butter sandwich, half a salami sandwich, half an apple (now brown where bitten), in case, there is no dinner tonight. I can take care of myself.




My Senegalese Student Reading English to Me


A single boy dribbling a basketball in an empty wooden-floored gym.  His entire body pivots like a door loose from its jamb.  His arm hooks in a question mark as he takes a shot.


A breath


The furry bee buzzing round my head is lovely as it follows its own path, ducking, bobbing, dancing past my ear.  It’s not just noise.  There is no stinger.  And away it goes.


A breath


Nearly dry sheets, pinned to the washline, flap and foxtrot in the wind.  Hang.

Catch their breath.


And breathe.




Family Weekend at Rehab


In our therapy session

we are given pens that read

“House of Hope”

and surveys with questions like:

Does your spouse/family member

hide his/her drinking/drug use.

a. Always
b. Most of the time
c. Sometimes
d. Rarely
e. Never

The group leader leaves the room

and scribbles fill the air.

The woman next to me bubbles

and erases and bubbles and erases

when A and E are all the same thing.


During our break

I fill my Styrofoam coffee cup

with hot water and head for

the ladies room.  No caffeine

in this joint.  I smuggled a can

of instant Nescafe

in my sweatshirt.

I watch the mother of a

teenage girl in treatment

check her makeup

in the mirror.  She smiles,

“Get ready for tears this weekend!”

and disappears out the door.


Back in the meeting room,

people are beginning to chat.

When I tell them I’m here

for my boyfriend,

not a husband,

a brother,

a father,

nor son,

I wonder

not for the first time

what I’m doing here.


The group leader

enters the room

and welcomes

us back.


I immediately tune her out,

stare out the window

at geese on the icy bay,

and realize

I’m the only one

who can escape.



Whitney Lee Nowak is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and New York City public school teacher who lives, writes, and works in Chinatown.



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