The Cost of Bread by Alan Walowitz

The Cost of Bread

I’d come home from school some days
to find Harold Dugan from the bakery truck
taking a spin on my mother’s old calculator.
Or for all I knew on my mother–
an old rumor that hardly matters now.
But she sure knew how to make his numbers work
as they spun out on those rolls of tape
and, times being tough, how to defray the cost of bread.
And he was a smooth talker, that Harold,
and school wasn’t done till three
and he owned his route
and he made his own time.

My mother kept books her whole life–
in her head and with a careful hand–
but now the numbers spin all over the page
and she can’t pin them down.
When the doctor asks her to draw a clock,
it looks like a scrambled egg,
the numbers floating in and out of the shell.
Draw three o’clock, the doctor orders,
and she says it’s too early for lunch.
I tell her, Ma, we already ate
and my mother informs me—and for my own good—
she can eat any time she damn well pleases.

by Alan Walowitz

Editor’s Note: Freedom of thought is stolen from those whose minds fail with age, but in this poem, that freedom still lingers. The close of this poem reopens the beginning, but not in any way that comforts the narrator.