Entry - MAG Poetry Prize 2010

Canned Peas

by Wendy Klein

Stiff with best behaviour I sit between Grandma and Grandpa,
while my new mother serves hamburgers,
 
serves baked potatoes, serves canned peas. I watch her, my scalp
prickling, my tongue swelling
 
until it sticks in my throat as the yellow-green spheres roll across
my plate, contaminate my meat;
 
my beautifully buttered potato, while the sun that’s been playing hide-
and-seek all morning moves behind a cloud
 
and Dad scurries across the sudden dark to switch on a light – because
Grandma’s aversion to eating in the dark
 
is legendary – like the black hole of Calcutta, she’ll say,
as if she was an authority on Indian atrocities.
 
Meanwhile Grandma is spooning my peas back into the serving dish,
saying she doesn’t eat canned peas, but my new mother
 
thinks differently; we think she should taste everything, she says,
and I am betrayed as she glowers new-authority across the table.
 
When I dare to look at my plate, the peas seem glued to it, swimming
in clotting butter. When I try to pick up my fork,
 
it wobbles in my fingers as I chase the slippery globes around my plate,
which makes my new mother try to ‘help’.
 
She loads the fork, holds a mouthful of green blobs up to my face,
under my nose, presses it into my mouth,
 
the texture squelchy and lumpy as strays roll over my tongue far back,
and I am gagging, vomiting in grey, tinged with green flecks --
 
spitting, spluttering, coughing. In the frozen wait, my new mother
announces to the horrified spectators, she did that on purpose,
 
which is when a shadow falls over the years ahead, falls like a guillotine
over the room, the table, the afternoon, what’s left of my childhood.
 
 

Added: 15.03.2010

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