Maryann Wolfe

Guidelines for Eating

 

Do you like peas?

Do you like rice?

asks the little girl in her highchair.

 

Maybe it’s when we are her age

that we first learn the truth about food.

It’s when we make our choices to be

eaters or starvers in times of crisis.

 

Maybe you didn’t grow up that way,”

he says, but “I’m European….”

 

Do you like cheese?

 

I made that soup for you!

I know you love meatball soup—

would you cry if I told you to go

in the kitchen and fix yourself a bowl?”

 

Do you like ham?

We had ham for Easter.

 

“Why are you crying? It’s not like

an airplane has crashed. It’s not like

your mother has been hit by a bus.”

 

Do you like peas?

Do you like rice?

 

“You shouldn’t eat that bread and butter.

Butter is all fat. It will kill you!

Go ahead—here, take this!”

 

Two pounds of butter tumble

across the counter.

 

Do you like cheese?

 

There are times when a woman

wants salt or chocolate,

at least comfort in the form

of bread or peas.

And there are times when this man

eats an entire can of condensed milk.

“It’s a treat,” he says, “Where I grew up

this stuff was over two dollars a can.”

 

Do you like ham?
We had ham for Easter.

 

I know the planning, the time

and preparation that go

into making ham for Easter

or into a bowl of homemade soup.

 

I know how hard it is

to taste a gift when it comes

with words so often repeated,

words that pass through the filter

between brain and mouth

as easy as water through a colander.

 

Do you like peas?

Do you like rice?

 

 

 

Walking in Circles

 

If blindfolded and told to walk

a straight line in the desert,

we cannot do it.

In a forest, where the canopy

of leaves blocks the sun,

we will find an invisible wind

blowing us off course.

It is ingrained in us

to walk in circles.

 

Perhaps this is why I wake

each morning, surprised

that there is no head

on the pillow beside mine.

There is a need to check my phone

for a message from you,

as if I simply slept so soundly

that I did not hear you

returning in the night.

 

But I woke seven times–

the cat was running a circle

from the windows on the east

to the windows on the west.

She is curled up now,

a nap-circle beside my knee.

It doesn’t seem to bother her,

to accept that circular nature

of nose to tail.

 

But I feel myself, orbiting moments,

reaching backwards

for when you were here.

Everyone’s advice would be–

Move on.

As if I could control (or would want to)

the emotion circling

through arteries and veins.

It is only natural

to remain unable (unwilling?)

to follow a linear path.

 

 

 

Pica

 

I remember exactly what my crib tastes like—

a sort of plastic-wood, the way I imagine

a fresh snapped birch twig to taste.

 

These days, as an adult, I try to be choosier

about what I put in my mouth.

As children, we explore and discover,

almost forget how to stay alive.

 

We leave the safety of children to adults,

who install crib sides upside-down

and inadvertently allow our heads to get trapped.

 

Maybe it’s because I understand that imperfection

that I crave the creamy texture

of plastic Risk troops on my tongue.

 

I have the inter-generational habit of idly chewing

the ends of hair, while pondering

some kindergarten question—

 

Some of us always return to taste

as the basic means of understanding.

 

Even the cat is drawn to circles of elastic,

lying in wait on the kitchen table

or on top of the clothes hamper.

 

And somewhere, someone in this neighborhood

is trying to overcome the need to gnaw and chew—

I found a metal spatula with bite marks on its handle.

 

It is lying, lonely, on the sidewalk under a pay phone.

It makes me wonder if its surrender was forced or voluntary.

 

I can picture this cooking tool flung out an open window

by a cook weary of seeking from utensils

what can’t be found in food.

 

Maryann Wolfe

 

Maryann Wolfe teaches creative writing, composition, and food writing at Bridgewater College. She has had work published in The Bluestone Review and Earth’s Daughters and placed in contests run the VA Poetry Society.

 

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