The teenage cashier asks about the swallow tattooon my arm as I pay him. I don't tell him my mother
has just died, and it's for her. When he turns
to get a bag, I see the peacock on his shoulder
emerging from his muscle-T. Twenty of my swallow
would fit inside it. Did you hear
about the boys in Gaza this morning? I ask.
It's stupid of me, insensitive, but I am only half human today.
Where? He asks. His eyes are thoughtful,
dark, the brows full black, with stray hairs in the middle.
His jaw is still young, won't finish widening for years yet.
How can I speak? Is the honey really local? I ask.
Grinning, he shakes his head no, no, side to side,
but says, Yes, sure is.
I look at a bin of roma tomatoes
then up toward the hilly horizon, yellow
with a grass I can't name, and hear a sob,
and know it's from me,
my face muscle composure collapsing
for a moment. How can I tell him
it is the ripeness,
the taut arc of skin on these fruits picked by someone I don't know,
or that I won't walk on these hills I am driving through
or that I wonder how many men laid this asphalt
we stand on that smokes in this hotter than normal day,
and that I know the cracks are shovel-filled at night
anonymously by public works workers here, as everywhere?
Who has laid these white lines in the parking lot? I want to ask.
Who filled this jar
of honey now in my hand? My face recomposes,
so I am no longer a monster. Or at least no longer look like one.
I pay five dollars for what would,
back home, at Sickles Market,
He holds out the change, and I graze
my knuckles along his palm
as I take
what I'm due.
Laura McCullough's essays, memoirs, stories, and poetry have appeared widely in places such as The Georgia Review, The American Poetry Review, Guernica, Pank, Gulf Coast, The Writer's Chronicle, and others. Her recent books include Jersey Mercy (poems, forthcoming spring 2016, Black Lawrence Press), an edited anthology, A Sense of Regard: essays on poetry and race (University of Georgia Press), and Rigger Death & Hoist Another (poems, BLP). Her previous books include Panic (poems, Alice James Books), Speech Acts (poems, BLP), What Men Want (XOXOX Press), and the anthology The Room and the World: essays on Stephen Dunn (University of Syracuse Press, 2014). Her poem, "There Were Only Dandelions" was selected by Sherman Alexie for Best American Poetry, 2015. She is on the faculty of the Sierra Nevada low-res MFA . (www.lauramccullough.org)