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Strict Diet

Though the doctors said no salt,
salt was all my father craved.
His body bloated, skin water-logged
and gray, still he wanted potato chips,
honey-baked ham, greasy slabs
of Polish sausage from Piekutowski’s.
He begged for pepperoni pizza,
garlic butter, ribs slathered in sauce.
But when I did the shopping,
I searched only for labels that said
low sodium and no preservatives, instead
bringing home heads of broccoli,
turkey burgers, shredded wheat.
And when he died anyway,
guilt gnawed me like an ulcer—
how could I have denied him
his few final pleasures?—
until I found Big Mac wrappers
stuffed under the car seat,
jars of pickles in the hall closet,
and hidden among wads of tissues
near the night stand, his stash—
a half-used canister of salt.
I sat down on his sagging mattress
now stripped of stained sheets
and studied that blue label
with the girl in the yellow dress
holding her umbrella against a rain
of salt still falling from the sky.

Originally appeared in Poet Lore
and American Life in Poetry

Telling My Father

I found him on the porch that morning,
sipping cold coffee, watching a crow
dip down from the power line into the pile
of black bags stuffed in the dumpster
where he pecked and snagged a can tab,
then carried it off, clamped in his beak
like the key to a room only he knew about.
My father turned to me then, taking in
the reek of my smoke, traces of last night’s
eyeliner I decided not to wipe off this time.
Out late was all he said. And then smiled,
rubbing the small of my back through the robe
for a while, before heading inside, letting
the storm door click shut behind him.
Later, when I stepped into the kitchen,
I saw it waiting there on the table—a glass
of orange juice he had poured for me and left
sweating in a patch of sunlight so bright
I couldn’t touch it at first.

Originally appeared in The New Republic

God Particles

I could almost hear their soft collisions
on the cold air today, but when I came in,

shed my layers and stood alone by the fire,
I felt them float toward me like spores

flung far from their source, having crossed
miles of oceans and fields unknown to most

just to keep my body fixed to its place
on the earth. Call them God if you must,

these messengers that bring hard evidence
of what I once was and where I have been—

filling me with bits of stardust, whaleskin,
goosedown from the pillow where Einstein

once slept, tucked in his cottage in New Jersey,
dreaming of things I know I’ll never see.

Originally appeared in Ruminate Magazine
and American Life in Poetry

For Those Weary of Prayer

Surely you know that time of night
when fireflies, tired of their own SOS,
float right into the mouth of a net,
when cicadas begin to sense they are
nothing more than husks for the chorus
that fills them. Surely you have seen
a child slough his trunks and run naked
through a sprinkler, crying out with joy
as you call him to bed. Aren’t you always
calling the name of what you love most
back to you, over and over, holding
the door open and pleading, Please don’t
make me ask again—and then asking again
until he comes?

Originally appeared in Ruminate Magazine

Garlic Sprouts

Down to Earth

The heart of a farmer
is made of muscle
and earth that aches
for return to earth.
And when the sky
releases a steady rain,
massaging each row
of sprouted beans,
my husband leans out
of the car window
and opens his hand
to hold that water
for a single instant,
his heart now beating
in sync with rain
seeping through layers
to kiss the roots
of every plant alive
on this living, breathing
planet on whose back
we were granted
permission to live
for a limited time.

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