THE GIFT

May 26, 2016

Before leaving our store, the customer said to my father,
“Give this garbage to your children,”
then placed on the counter a Haitian mango:
all muscle brindled with black and bruises
so that the flesh looked more
like igneous rock than fruit.

My father’s arms went slack. No point
in arguing further. The customer
is always right. But even I knew as a child
mangoes were the sweetest
when they looked half-rotten—
I wanted to eat what the customer said was mine.

“It’s not a gift,” my father said.
He told me to go to the back of the store,
then took the fruit into his office.

My parents fought later.
My father punched a hole into a cantaloupe
instead of my mother.

Crying, she stayed with us in the back,
where customers wouldn’t see or hear her.
I held Jane Eyre close.
My two brothers impaled moldy oranges
on Ticonderoga pencils.

After the store quieted, I went to look for him.
Did he fall asleep? I wondered.
Was he finally sick of fighting?

I saw him eat the mango
as he stood over the garbage can
by the wall lined with meat cleavers.

Juice dribbled along his Adam’s apple.
He peeled the skin back, then took
the stone fruit whole and bit off
its flesh. Nothing went to waste in our store.

He began to chew on the last silken patches
of the marigold food.

Sit down, I wanted to tell him,
Sit down. Here’s a milk crate. There’s no rush.
Eat and eat and eat. Sit down, sit down.
Let yourself want to eat.