The Boiler

Sarah A. Chavez

DEAR CAROLE, OF COURSE NOW I DO THE DISHES

Just yesterday, my fingers
puckered and layered with soap, rubbing
the cloth round and round the plate,
I couldn’t stop thinking
of all the hands that touched
the plate before it got to me.
The hands that mined
the Earth’s overburden, that scooped
the clay, sorted out the roots and limestone,
screened it through a sieve,
dried and pressed. Hands that worked
the hammer mill, that kneaded and pugged,
rolled the slabs, ringed the edges,
that carefully chose an autumn red
for the posies that would come
to bloom in its center.
The hands that fired.
The hands that wrapped it in paper,
folding the brown fibers of recycled parchment
carefully, twice. Those hands understood
the plate’s fragility, knew that someone
would be rough with it, would forget
that a plate is fundamental
to the very core of civilization.
Without the plate, we’re rats
scrounging and twitching our whiskers,
licking the soft pads on our sharp-toed feet.
And now I have this plate.
It’s a wonder the red painted posies
don’t run right off
with how I’ve scrubbed and scrubbed.
I know it’s not dirty, I just need
something to caress
in your absence.


DEAR CAROLE, I WAIT TO STOP FEELING HUNGRY

You once said eating with me
made you nervous:
I can see you counting calories
when you dish out food.
But what you really saw
was my mental resistance not to count,
not to see exactly where that food
would end up when I didn’t exercise.
It has been exhausting trying
to undo what had been done
for so many years and all
I wanted was to get to the point
where I could just say,
Fuck it and eat.

My mother counted calories,
constantly cycled through new diets,
pinched the fat of her belly,
refusing to look in the mirror.
She drank nothing but chocolate powder
and ice for months, then made nothing
but dry tuna patties and tomato slices.
The tuna water squeezed from the slit
in the broken seal, the pink flesh
plopped on a plate. Her hands soft & facile
making little mounds and placing them
on the dry nonstick frying pan,
my job to smash with a spatula
and turn over.

Our real diet was inconsistency.
It was who knows what will come today –
Pepsi and candy for breakfast, no more
than one cookie after lunch,
boxed Mac n’ Cheese, Hamburger
Helper, canned green beans,
these in any combination for dinner.

And I find myself here again
keeping track, except this time
it’s not about calories or pounds,
it’s about the consistency
of desire – the desire to stop desiring
all the time. It is distracting. 
I sit down to write and every line
is an item from my pantry,
what food might be in walking distance:
peanuts, candy corn, Wheat Thins,
apples, Dove chocolates,
kale chips, left over pizza.

Each new tried food is logged
and cataloged, to determine
which will sustain me the longest,
make my stomach cease its endless
desire to be filled:
Plain bagel with peanut butter – 7:45 a.m.,
Hungry again at 9.
Egg and cheese on English muffin – 8:15 a.m.
Hungry again at 10:45.
Black coffee with breakfast, thirsty again
after each mug drains.


DEAR CAROLE, AT THE GALTHOUSE POOL, LOUISVILLE, KY 2014 

First dunk in, my heart stops.
Colder than I thought, my mouth
cracks like a dam and the water
rushes in, my lungs filling
like a creek or a cup . . .

Like the cup we took to the pool
in the mobile home park. You,
me, Christy, and the neighbor boy
took turns holding its silent
lip under the silvery surface
until the last bubble broke,
before ripping through
the water’s sheen,
to empty it in someone’s face.
Your face cried, the salt and chlorine
like a chemical reaction
producing a scream
so loud and shrill, we all
opened our mouths
to swallow the sound.

I come up sputtering & guttural,
forgetting what year it is,
what pool. I look for you,
but all I see are strangers and this
makes me both happy and sad.
Happy that I am somewhere clean
and bright, somewhere
I have been invited.
Sad, because even then
I don’t belong.


__________________________________

Sarah A. Chavez, a mestiza born and raised in the California Central Valley, is the author of the chapbook, All Day, Talking (Dancing Girl Press, 2014), which was featured on Sundress Publications’ book spotlight, The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed. She holds a PhD in English with a focus in poetry and Ethnic Studies from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in North Dakota Quarterly, Stirring: A Literary Collective, Spoon River Poetry Review, Luna Luna Magazine, among others. Her manuscript, This, Like So Much, was an Honorable Mention for the 2013 Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Contest. A selection from her chapbook manuscript All Day, Talking won the Susan Atefat Peckham Fellowship in 2013. She is a proud member of the Macondo Writers Workshop. www.sarahachavez.com