The Sandwich That Bites Back

by James Cihlar

At sixteen I spun on the map outside Lincoln, Nebraska,
my sister driving the thoroughfares we had trusted Roman Hruska
and Ed Zorinsky to lay out in green fields for us. They had our needs in
mind
when they legislated the six interchanges to the city, or so we thought.
We didn’t know that years down the road the car would drive off the
map,
not once, but over and over—so often it seemed part of the trip. My
sister gave me
Diving Into the Wreck. Back then, words were made for use,
books were made to be annotated, poems were made to gloss.
Right now I am living on the page with you, not knowing what comes
next.

Two years after my mother passed, my cat of eighteen years
died on her birthday. What he knew of sustenance came from me.
When his kidneys stopped putting water into his bloodstream
he looked at me as if I had created thirst. He looked at me as if
I had created cold. I wrapped him in his blanket
and clasped him to my chest. On his last day I held my hand out
and he snapped as if to pierce the web of skin
between my thumb and forefinger. Instead I gave him my fingertip
to bite, which he did, again and again, until he tired.
You gave me Averno and Elegy. I can see where I’m at in the volumes,
and I can turn the pages, but I can’t change the endings.

The boss would place his take-out order with his secretary,
meticulously describing
the contents of a sandwich as if its maker were a master chef and not a
street vendor.
He dictated whole grain bread and artisan cheese, savory herbs and
spiced meat,
so crisp that when he took a bite the sandwich would bite back.
This summer a colleague I admired for ten years had a heart attack and
died
months before he reached retirement. I picked up Chronic and Tea.
D.A. Powell asks,
if two events occur at the same time, is one a metaphor for the other?
We are the sandwich. Because this is what we get. Because the good die
young.
Because middle age is full of cares. Because we are not our jobs.
Because we love the ones around us. Because we need to put it down
on paper.
Because there is something better.

*

James Cihlar is the author of the poetry book Undoing (Little Pear Press), and the chapbook Metaphysical Bailout (Pudding House Press), and he has placed his poems with Prairie Schooner, Mary,Rhino, Painted Bride Quarterly, Emprise Review, Verse Daily, andForklift, Ohio. His reviews have appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Western American Literature, Coldfront, and Gently Read Literature. The recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship for Poetry and a Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner, Cihlar is a Visiting Instructor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and Macalester College in St. Paul.