Every day, my father would pack me the same lunch: grapes
stripped from the stem, the mate of an already eaten
Fig Newton, a peanut butter sandwich with the bread stained
from unevenly spread raspberry jelly, with the crust
discarded, and the remains cut into even fours, all placed in a bag
covered in pink plaid. Hidden inside, a napkin disguised as a love note.
As games of footsy commenced against table feet, I never noted
those purple-lettered napkin poems that plated my grapes
or how he knew that I only liked the Halloween Ziploc bags
with the sliding plastic zipper, or how he knew I ate
my yogurt first, never forgetting the spoon used to break the crust
of congealed raspberries on top that eventually would form a stain.
Slowly. My thoughts became stained
with vomit as well as the toilet where I dreamed, and doctor’s notes
replaced rhetorical analyses of Mark Twain, while crust
accumulated around my mouth like rust, and every swallow felt like a grape
blockading air to my lungs, and the paradox of staying alive and eating
left the skin around my thighs, arms, hips, and breastsloose and bagging.
My eyes weaved bags
as the cure was pumped through my skin and stained
it to the point where a swipe of a stick couldn’t remove what ate
away at my hair, my complexion, my muscle. Joyous notes
were left on silent, the only light reflected off my smooth, grape
shaped head, and I waited for my body to sink within the Earth’s crust.
A papier-mâché crusted
film molded over my heart, waiting to be bagged
by the hunter trying to mount me on their wall. My father could only fire a whiffed grapeshot
at the hunter battling inside me with such candorand fervor, that every stain
of guilt exploded like a loaded cannon at the thought of all the love notes
I carelessly never read, and all the mushy grapes he packed that I never ate.
Somedays, when my body gave me permission to eat,
my father would sneak in a packed lunch to rescue me from crusted
mac and cheese and Monday Mystery meat for a high note
of fried chicken with globs of mashed potatoes camouflaged in a J.Crew shopping bag
and we laughed like we didn’t have cancer and gravy stained
the roofs of our mouths and sleeves, and he never forgot dessert: a handful of grapes.
My cancer has been eaten away like a grape
Even though the stain remains and the scab has crusted
But I carry those bags of burdens and hide them like a love note.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY RACHEL KISER