I was eating a bologna and mustard sandwich
the day my father fell against a hot stove
and burned the shape of Africa into his right palm.
We were staying with an aunt in Iowa City,
an aunt who used to be a nurse but quit
for fear of AIDS. It was August, my ninth summer.
I remember how the ruined skin pickled,
how my father did not cry though the burn wept
sour gold the whole time we were there.
For days, women who smelled of hairspray
had been x-raying my kinked spine,
wrenching and measuring my flaccid ankles,
carting me between ovens that turned out
to be MRI machines. Then one doctor convinced
my parents to let him circumcise me
during a skin graft so that I woke with a moon
of stitches in my cock and didn’t know why.
Back home, the grown-ups lamented
the inconvenience of a 3rd grader in diapers,
the result of beer cans and ashtrays
pearling a pregnant diabetic’s bedskirts.
Then my father tripped, palmed the stove
and rose cursing, calling for ice and a bandage.
They’d never read Proust, had no idea I’d remember
the sheen left by that untended bit of fire.
And in time—the smell, that wild musk
when what is wounded begins at last to heal.
by Michael Meyerhofer, first published in Cream City Review.
Editor’s Note: The imagery in this poem surprises the reader into paying close attention to the narrative. It’s only at the end of the poem that we understand the deeper meaning behind the story.