Jessica Manack

The day after you leave, I realize that I am starving, and that I am in the place for it. Stopping at each stand on the street, I buy cones of almonds saltier than the sea, steal enough hazelnut paste to last a week, hide bananas like disease up my shirtsleeves. I cry in cafeterias, clean cups with my tongue, trying each tea—Black Forest, Dreams of Rilke—without luck. None of these are what my mouth wants to be full of. I’m displaced: a flopping fish, dismembered hand, in a land where words lay like traps in the way. The people here greet friends with Hey, Uncle. They say: I have the head of three in the afternoon and Your girlfriend is gorgeous; she is like a train. The last time you went away was the day I learned the vigor of cheese, all kinds. The sly, pillow-softs, the ink-blue clots, the ones with waxy rinds: I made them mine, storing in oil for next time what I didn’t eat. Now, I hang out beside the bakery, drinking yogurt, grinding fried corn between my teeth, until fresh bread drops down the chute into the window. I eat it as I walk. It lasts a block. At the candy stand by my house, the old man studies me as though I am a lush, tired eyes pink as Valentines. “For the kids,” I lie. You’re always on the go. You don’t send notes, or cards, or steaks at Christmastime. I try to gild goodbyes, frost them pink and sweet like cakes, but I can’t hide my eyes. I seek you in every pie. I eat the promises you break with ham on rye. Flailing, I try to write you, but “You’re so shellfish!” is all I manage. I eat my dinners in bars, anonymous. It feels safe. Tonight, the rotund widow brings plate after plate—fried bread soup, cauliflower drowned in mayonnaise, eggs splayed atop mountains of squash and rice, a plateful of red tuna packed in oil, veins black, an ore. Hefting her rolls while fetching me more, ignorant of my binges, she encourages me to eat. “The eyes of the fat are brilliant,” she laughs. “The eyes of the thin, they pop out like frozen fish.” The light falling away’s all that punctuates my days. My feeding’s never complete. I pry orange blossoms from the trees lining the streets, shower my mouth with flowers tasty as phone books. Nothing is as filling as it looks. Even the fruits on the trees are useless, used by junkies, they say, to sterilize needles—a few acidic pricks to safety. I roll one in my hand, marvel at its slick citrus skin, teeth mossy, hands soiled and clammed. It doesn’t let on, but I know we’re both damned, we’re both shoved, bodies tested and bruised, flesh shot through with poison mistaken for love.

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Image by granat from Pixabay