“Last Meal” by Marcus Cafagña

Marcus Cafagña

LAST MEAL

In spite of doctor’s orders, she ate meat
and greasy fried potatoes after weeks of eating
nothing but miso and rice for a bleeding colon,
hiding her meds, most nights curled at the edge
of oblivion. Or she would rise from bed in terror
until I flicked on the light, opened the closet door
wide enough to see no jewel thief inside,
her one black boot overflowing with diamonds
and gold where she’d left it. I wanted to think
of our sharing a booth at the Burger King,
wanted to think of her hunger as the opposite
of depression. How could I forget stories
of the little girl her father called Cotton
singing and twirling on top of a bar table
for his drunken friends? I didn’t think
of the undercooked meat she’d been raised on,
the fatback cured in salt. Even strung-out,
Dianne dressed up, painted her lips
a deep red the way she would for Daddy.
She put gravity to the test, told me
she tried to hang herself with a belt
too flimsy for the job. I didn’t believe her
even after she gave our cats away,
convinced the white one was a witch,
even after the bad cut and dye job
seared the cotton-candy blonde to orange.
So long as that caustic wit of hers burned,
I thought she’d be okay. The more she chewed
and swallowed, the better she began to look.
The next day coming home with the Times,
I found her, hanging by the neck. Screaming,
I cut her down, tried to break her fall
with outstretched arms. My last moments
with my wife were spent shouting Come back,
giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
But, Lord, so help me, there was a second
when, I swear, her eyes opened and looked
back at me, when her lips unclenched,
as though startled awake she was on the verge
of speech, as if, even then, she had a choice.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008



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