I used to bring my infusion nurse chocolates because I dug the way Eli took care of the woman who vomited next to me. She was two decades younger with a mass of black curls we both knew she would lose. Her husband sat in the chair next to her, fidgeting with his backpack strap while she got sick. I knew how the poison made her veins taste like menthol and food taste like chewing bullets. I wanted to suggest plastic forks, but I left it to Eli, the nurse, to silently give my Cancer neighbor an extra pillow and ginger ale in a Styrofoam cup.
I am well now. Yesterday, I sucked down half a pound of shrimp and almost as many fried pickles. I stuffed my face with seafood and the South after sun and baseball and beer, and I couldn’t help but remember that, even when I was strapped in that chair hooked up to dripping venom, I knew that it would end. I would eat again.
When true hunger gnaws, with no respite, our stomachs shrink to walnut size, and our bodies reject sustenance even when it’s offered. Now, with a nation not well, with land fracked and skies fried, with fields of golden hair we all know we will lose, I consider. I shudder. Then the bile rises--
Sally Toner is a high school English teacher who has lived in the Washington DC area for almost 25 years. Her work has appeared in Gargoyle Magazine, The Watershed Review, The Delmarva Review, and other publications.
These poems were recognized at the 2019 WFD Poetry Competition