first girl in the family to go to college
was hungry all year
often, for a smoke to put a coat
of nicotine over all-nighter pangs
of exam panic
dry-mouthed too many mornings
anonymous in lecture halls
following beer-pong night school
covetous of customers’ orders
waiting tables at the diner
consumed by plate envy
for syrup-soaked pancakes since
the currency of her free meal
bartered for calculus tutorials
she might have gotten for her dimples
and a feigned interest in sci-fi
instead, she indulged
the same sweet tooth
her momma showed
for boys with candied flesh
no woman could ever bite deep
enough to sugarcoat their rinds
a binge that left her ravenous
to know if that extra weight
was freshman 10
or pregnancy pounds
then, by finals week, bloated with relief
when what she had to swallow next
left a mostly hidden scar
and a fat-lipped heart
What mom hopes I don’t remember about first-grade hunger:
how it gulped down even the lump of fear
caused by ketchup sandwich of silence and sirens
that last syringe stuck like a straw
in her bruised banana flesh.
I pretend now that I never slept dreamless
on a full belly, plump pillow in a foster family’s home
the nights she spent in rehab.
My eighth-grade pangs starved family pride:
I was the scavenger angel in evangelical service
of our lunch lady of the uneaten corn dog
nugget, green bean, cooked carrot and fruit cocktail
abandoned on trays of friends.
At home my brother and I gorged impotently
on ramen noodles, eager for mom’s McNugget pay-day
Tenth-grade first job wages:
I stuffed my locker and bedside table
with red finger-tipped fruits
crunch and burn of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
my pocket change tossed in the collection plate
for college and a car. Later was never. Now
was treating the three of us to fourth meal at Taco Bell
until we were sick of it, and I grew too big for hand-me-downs
used my employee discount on a larger size.
We harvested a riot in our garden
tomatoes bloated after volleys of rain
and our temporary decampment
on vacation at the lake.
Joker-mouthed fruits leaking lifeblood
greeted our return. No tasers or rubber bullets
could repel fruit fly surge
as what we hoped to salvage
This decomposing regiment of peaceful assembly
occupied the sunniest spot for months
entwined vines shielding assets
behind pungent chainmail.
We broke through the lines, captured hundreds
cut away their bruises, battle scars
to savor victory salads and sandwiches all summer
detain nine gallons of boutique sauces
seasonal POWs in our freezer.
Now we surrender a field deepened by combat
soil's soul turned over to red cabbages, kale, pansies
nevertheless, haloed ground
demands a mottled moment of silence
for Yemen, Syria and the Congo, whose children might
for peace in which to gather tomatoes like these
fight insects to the death
eat not around bruised fruit, but through it,
suck in bloody juice, swallow bitter seeds.
Laura Stewart Webb is a keen and grateful member of the Southern Maryland community of poets who gather together to participate in workshops, open mics, and the joy and mystery of being human. Laura writes on many topics but often returns to themes inspired by her work as a community educator in behavioral health. Laura lives with an Irish Wolfhound named Fintan who has not given up trying to teach her everything he knows.
Hunger-focused Poems by Maryland Poets
Creation of this section and publishing the works of Maryland poets was supported by the Maryland State Arts Council.