“Stand Off” by Nancy Miller Gomez

Nancy Miller Gomez


There are 14 men in the lunchroom. Some are sitting in chairs, some standing,
some prowling around the edges of the room. They are men who have grown
used to being on a schedule, and this is snack time. They are waiting for a door
to open and a cart to come out. Sometimes it’s oranges, sometimes apples. But today
they have been here too long. Impatience builds like snow before an avalanche.
We want our fruit, they say. But the man watching from the protected enclosure
tells them, You’ve already had your fruit. Eyes narrow, arms cross. No, they say.
We’ve been waiting. And no one has brought the fruit. The man behind glass
repeats into the speaker, You’ve already had your fruit. It was there on the tray.
And now it’s gone. Where’s the tray? the men say. Where’s the fruit? Their hands
fly up in protest like a flock of startled birds. They have NOT had their fruit.
The man in the booth looks at me as if I am the witness who will save him.
Maybe I will say that I too saw the fruit. Only I’ve just arrived. I haven’t seen
anything. I stand there outside the guard station with my backpack filled
with poems watching the men watch me. Is it possible it’s still in the kitchen?
the instructor of the class before mine suggests. She wants these men
to come back to the room where she is teaching them life skills: how to balance
a checkbook, how to find a job, how to be honest in a world that isn’t.
She knows they won’t pay attention until they’ve had their fruit.
Can I just go to the kitchen and look? she asks, and everyone quiets to hear
what the man will say. Then he passes the key through the bulletproof portal.
It scrapes across the metal. She scoops it into her hand and heads to the kitchen.
Everyone waits. Minutes later she re-appears carrying a tray piled with 14 bananas.
The men form a circle around her, each in turn taking one, and then
they are eating and no one talks. Now they aren’t angry men.
They are hungry boys who have just been fed.

from Punishment
Rattle Chapbook Series Selection


Nancy Miller Gomez: “Poetry helps me to make emotional sense of my life. Each poem is a struggle to clarify something I don’t yet understand.” (web)

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