Grace Before Meals

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts

which we are going to receive from thy bounty

through Christ, our Lord. Amen








As a child, I’d refuse to eat my veggies,

pushing them round and round my plate

until my mother’s glare unclamped my jaw

and I choked down every last leaf.

Think, she’d say, of the starving children.

Ethiopia was big then—the television

haunting us with its images of thin limbs

and distended bellies, flies ringing

the faces of people too tired to brush them off.

How I’d wished I could slip the greens,

those healthy abominations, into the screen—

imagined the surprise of some little boy

when he saw my hand reaching down

from his sky passing the carrots and okra

like manna. In today’s news, another riot

—in Haiti this time. Bands of people storm

Port-au-Prince, fearless with hunger

while peacekeeping troops place their guns

and bodies between the mob and the giant

containers of food stockpiled in the city.

I’m on my way to Wegmans; it’s Monday

night and the parking lot is almost empty.

I pull my cart from the long train, discard

the one with the squeaky wheel. It’s eerie

wandering alone in the fluorescent glow

to the background music of Bon Jovi, and the night

manager’s pen clicking against his clipboard.

I walk right past the sprinkled produce,

wheel through the isles of fresh and frozen

meat, blocks of cheese waiting to be cut,

the twenty different types of cereal

high fiber/all natural/calcium enriched,

and for a second, it is a bad dream—

I’m in a labyrinth I must eat my way out of,

the ghosts of all the world’s hungry

up in the bleachers watching, bony hands

under their chins, and the flies, again, the flies.

Waste is the America’s biggest crime,

my mother had declared when once,

I casually tossed the bread molding

in my kitchen: it had been on sale—

buy one get one free. I should, she warned,

be more mindful of the privilege of too much bread.

This night, I am. For thirty minutes

I roam the shelves, read their bright tags,

pick up or leave the cans and jars, the boxes

that read a complete meal in 10 minutes—

stock up to satisfy next week’s hunger.

At checkout, the sleepy cashier offers paper or plastic,

piles bag after bag, and I pay with nothing

more than my name.