Memories of the Kitchen Table

After hearing Joy Harjo talk nostalgically about her family's storytelling around the kitchen table

The figures gather.
They crowd around the table.
My scrawny grandfather coughs and wheezes
in his alcohol and pee-stained yellowed nightshirt.
My grandmother with her round belly
swigs alka seltzer, belches, curses,
jabs at him with her crystalline blue eyes.
My silent mother clears her throat and stares
her lips tightly pursed
her arms crossed
against her buxom chest.
She swallows her own spells.
And I am there too.
Afraid of grizzle and veins,
afraid of choking,
I shred my lox
make a mosaic of bagels and cream cheese.
"What the hell are you doing?"
My father scowls.
Then the parakeet unhooks its cage
caws indecipherable syllables
juggernauts around the room
flits up and down
pecks at our skulls
until my father darts after it
swinging a butterfly net.

This is childhood.
No stories to crawl into
to ease the pressures of time.
Just slivers of memory
that stick in the craw
And always I am afraid of choking.  
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