“Maxing Out” by Michelle Bonczek Evory

Michelle Bonczek Evory


Eventually my grandmother started eating 
anything sweet she could reach: strawberry 
gummies, chocolate ice cream, giant bags of M&Ms, 
an entire box of soft cherry Ludens. Platter 
of Christmas cookies: trees all crumb before 
we could stop her. Now, nearing eighty, my father 
does the same. Raspberry cordials, a pint 
of Häagen-Dazs vanilla. At some point you have to 
ask, why not? Our cat almost died, and now 
we let him eat butter and shit on the counter.
Today I found him licking the edge of Boar’s 
Head ham flapping out my sandwich, so I gave him
half. We only love so long. This summer we drove 
to California, and New York, almost died 
on a mountain, drowned in a river, burned in a fire, 
got shot on the street. Yesterday we maxed a card 
out on a friggin’ lawn mower. Cost as much as dinner 
three days before: braised octopus, homemade pasta, 
bottle of Nebbiolo. We shared the best dessert 
I have ever eaten: caramel bar on shortbread topped 
with hazelnut chocolate bar topped with whipped cream, 
fresh blueberries, blueberry compote. I licked the plate 
white with my fingers. For twenty years, we’ve waited 
for new jobs, bigger savings, better healthcare, the right 
lotto balls. For seven years, we’ve needed to cut the grass 
that keeps on growing—
and you can only cut it for so long.

from Rattle #68, Summer 2020


Michelle Bonczek Evory: “Is it possible that I wrote this poem while I was hungry? Most of it is autobiographical. My grandmother did grow a sweet tooth as she aged and felt less need to curb it. My dad is too. My husband and I did splurge on an indulgent dinner and then a lawn mower, and these two facts sparked a conflict for me. In this poem, as I do in my daily life, I was trying to navigate the balance between fear, desire, and reason. So much of what we do daily is far removed from our deeper needs. I was interested in how we make sense of this jumbled desire, how we use reason or shame to control it. This could be my Catholic upbringing … I do have a tendency to spend money sporadically when I have less of it to spend, and if I had spent the money before then it would have made me feel something akin to guilt. I’m sure I am not alone in this. The poem was a way of exploring that. It just got me wondering what purpose the deprivation of certain desire serves, and what we do to ourselves in this short lifetime that prevents us from enjoying living as much as we can. America has deep Puritan roots; I think we need to be feeding our inner sweet tooth more often.”

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