The first time I walked into an American
supermarket I nearly fainted, right between
the isles of bread stacked above my head,
beyond my reach: brown bread, flat bread,
big puffy bread, tiny bread like fists,
bread long and thin as arms, bread
with nuts on top, bread with fruits inside,
so much bread it overwhelmed the shelves,
threatened to burst onto the floor.
At home, the store shelves were empty—no
butter, no cheese, no meat, perhaps a few
expensive cans of mushrooms or a box
of Dutch milk only foreigners could afford.
I had to wait in line for a loaf of bread.
Most days they’d run out before my turn to buy.
You had never gone home empty-handed;
how could I explain my first taste of freedom—
not saying anything I wanted without fear
the nosy neighbor would report me to the authorities,
but bread I could buy and waste at will.
You wouldn’t understand the phrase too much,
but I had learned to live with hunger.
What was I to do with all of your affection?
Squander it, buy it up in boxes for fear
one day your shelves, too, would run empty?
Originally published in Crab Orchard Review