Father glowers into her mouth—
a drain, clogged with leftovers,
a dirty sun. Lays his fork down,
swallows mashed potatoes
like they’re whole.
Her mouth, which never stays closed,
happily churns herring morsels and syllables
into viscous mounds that morph whole
sentences into crowds,
spilling in and out of a rush hour train
until nobody’s sure who’s going where.
At fifteen, she took the subways
to university. Alone in the big city,
no one saw her chew
when her father sent food
from home, where no one looked
gift horses in the mouth.
She’d bite thick chunks right off precious
pink meat, lick clean salt crystals
stuck in cracks of chapped lips.
On graduation day, he gifted her
a rope of sausage, apples, and good rye.
How they laughed, food flying from their mouths
on strings of salt-saturated joy.
And on her wedding day the same
and everyday until he passed away,
the same open mouth.
My father taught me not to talk
while I eat. He scowls into
my mother’s, a horse’s mouth,
that from afar looks almost human.
I keep chewing. She washes
his underwear, raises us
his way, eats alone. And in a different life,
her father praises her every tooth
like some ancient men worshipped horses,
like they praised the sun.
Tamara Hart is a poet and a teacher. Her work, like her life, explores her Ukrainian/Jewish heritage and how it influences the everyday. Tamara writes about family dynamics, gender roles, immigration, and the passage of time in her poetry. Her work has appeared in Lamplighter Magazine. She writes and lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and two over-fed cats.