When It's Gone

When It’s Gone

By Isabel Brosseau Gray
7th grade, French Broad River Academy for Girls, NC
3rd place contest winner

With lines from “Venezuelans Suffer Deadly Scarcity of Food and Medicine” by Nadja Drost and Bruno Federico, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

 

Mama,
I want food.
The pantry
is empty.

The child is thin,
as narrow as the space between one’s teeth.
I see her small.
She doesn’t grow.
Like this baby
doesn’t grow.
I have to be careful
she doesn’t fall to the side,
a forgotten scrap of bread,
too small to matter.
She doesn’t try to crawl,
to walk.
She doesn’t grow
like a delicate fern,
soft fingertips reaching
for the too-high sunlight.
The carcass
of a government
can’t feed her family.
We don’t know
how this pitch-black universe
will be filled with stars again.

Accounts in this story
may upset.
Don’t read this.
But you should know,
the last thing he ate
was a moldy crust of bread,
found in the drain beside his house.

Venezuela
means an empty stomach,
a child reaching
for the last mango
in the cupboard,
stained with brown bruises
and a stench he won’t smell.

Accounts in this story
may upset.
So take a deep breath,
before imagining
that the water from his tap
is a murky stream.

Malnutrition
is another word
for the thing
the child can’t imagine living without,
the disease
of body and mind,
a place
so deep,
like a swimming pool of tar.

Accounts in this story
may upset
the polite way
you drink your warm coffee in the morning
and you flip past
the devastating headlines.
The comics always make you laugh anyway.
Something is on
and it’s easier to sit on the TV
and skip through channels.
Nobody likes the feeling
of curling up like a child
in a mother’s womb,
waiting to be born.

When the boy says,
Mama, I want food,
I still can’t find the way
to tell him
that was the last mango.

Read more winning entries from the 2018 Fighting Words Poetry Contest