Purple Lettered Napkin Poems

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

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