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POETRY / There’s a Burden to Loathing / Jane Simpson

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Fifteen years I’ve chewed rancid
nuts that leave an aftertaste
water won’t wash off the tongue. 
I’m cowed by the clutch
of my own wrath,
but still I don’t forgive
a woman I met once, since 
she left a child in agony 
and it was my child.
Plus, it was physical hurt,
not mind sores on rainy days,
words that darken like bruised fruit,
regrets that come like overdrafts.

No, I didn’t spot her as a woman 
with a yen, a want so keen
she snuck in, sucked
up my child’s pain pills 
when a surgeon cut
and my small girl curled
smaller in plaster and pain.
That woman called—my 
church’s one foundation—
said she’d just left
the Pastor’s Aid Committee,
asked what kind of operation,
asked could she visit in an hour.

I grabbed, lurched for the cloak
hem, the shepherd’s crook,
because right then I needed
the church to come to me, to us,
to lift my girl onto the bed,
and to sleep in the chair,
hold her when her back arced.
The woman was poised, polished
in a starched cotton way,
a hair-sprayed way, 
a painted nails way.
She brought children’s books, 
a steeple-full of love.

She was polite, like a shopper
who shares check-out line space.
And she didn’t stay long.
She seemed errand-list restless:
she peered into all my rooms,
asked for hot tea with lemon.
excused herself when I held
yellow moons of vomit basins.
Still I didn’t sense anything,
feel alert then alarm
like when I dream of snakes,
find an owl on the window sill,
see rat droppings under the sink.

I don’t hate that she was driven
like a sheep over the cliff.
I hate how she’d glance at me
in church not with shame, 
but without thought, 
a busy undertaker
who undresses the corpse.
All those years I’d watch
her stand to sing, 
bow to pray
and I’d bite into the bitter.
Even now, I read her early obit
and she’s a host in my body.