|At the Bookstore Cafe
After a long browse for some other story
to make of our lives, we sit in uneasy
truce over what she will or will not eat.
We drink our chamomile tea and pretend
I'm the good mother, she the good daughter.
Three more patients from the ward drop themselves
in chairs nearby, tripping the rictus scale
as she calls it. She looks at them like mirrors.
She baits me -- “World-class starvation artists,
Mummy" -- waving her empty cup toward them.
"You can’t quite say we 'egg' each other on,
can you? Not even that would pass our lips."
I say nothing. My arm half lifts and falls.
Hunched in her ladderback chair, she would flinch,
scald, if touched, this flesh once safe, once perfect,
that grew inside me. So, we drink our tea.
A Starbuck's barista in a bearsuit
brings them their rosehip and waddles away
to welcoming squeals from the Children’s Hour.
Once upon a time, I would have said,
“O children, frisk and play,
be good and stay away.
The poison's sweet.
Beware the forest's paths
and what they give to eat."
Now, I don't know. Her fingers like twigs tap,
tap at her cup. She looks past the tykes running
down the aisles, faces paint-whiskered as mice,
then slowly tears her napkin into confetti.
My hands lie in my lap like stones. Chairs scrape,
the sisterhood rises. I look at her,
at me; Witch or Gretel makes no difference,
we are ourselves our own ovens.
Robert Bolick lives in Connecticut.
© 2006 Robert Bolick