Cathexis Northwest Press

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want; Food Fight; when i think about 9/11 now


I wanted to write a poem about knives. How I always wanted one and how I knew I’d never use it, how I always nick my fingers, how I'm afraid of everything. How my father reminisced about

the days he armed my sister, and long ago, my mother, gifting them housewarming blades to

guard against New York's shadowy subways and dimly lit ungentrified blocks. How I saw three

years delayed, he made no move to shield me too.


I tried storytelling trick 

              after trick, modes and styles and every angle I 

                            could think of -- nothing 

made my plaintive cry for attention 

              anything more -- more poignant

                            more thoughtful

                                          more worth inflicting on captive readers. 

He never bought me a knife because he didn't think 

              I needed protection, didn’t 

                            want to protect me or

                                          think I was worth it

                                                         realize where I lived? 

I cringe. 


When I started driving at 16 I feared winding rural roads where the rearview mirror showed a constricting tunnel of trees at night, no headlights or streetlamps or stars. More specifically, I feared what might befall me on such a road: I could be pulled over by a cop, real or fake, and be raped and maybe murdered just a few minutes from my home. I imagined clutching a knife to defend myself -- though I knew you couldn’t answer a cop knocking on your window with a drawn blade, unless you wanted real trouble, not hysterical fears -- and my fingers shook on the steering wheel, unarmed. I wanted to bring my imaginary knife when I traveled, especially when

I flew -- but I knew it couldn't come through security. I wanted it tucked under my pillow, a pea only I could feel -- ready to be turned against me in the dark. I wanted it glinting in my palm

when I stumbled home wasted -- though such an open threat could only look like aggression or fear. But if it lay sleeping in my purse -- I'd never reach its folded body in time, and what good would it be then? The logistics always stumped me.


No one jumped me. And as I slowly ticked off

every situation where I wanted a blade

as one where it would offer no security at all

I started to move on. The cravings faded

and I relaxed. 


I wrote long and painstakingly, attempting to crystallize what I learned -- the real dangers come from the men already in my bed, imaginary knife folded on the bedside table; 8 out of 10 of rape victims know their attackers; 4 of the 11% who use weapons choose knives; but what’s the

overlap, and which would be worse, an armed friend or a unarmed stranger or an unarmed friend you still couldn’t see coming with your eyes wrinkled shut; by the time your neck bristles it's already too late; forget the someone, somewhere, look for the real threat, right here; daddy, what did they have that i don't; now, what have you learned; write what you want; i want; i want; why not buy what you want; can't you buy what you want?


I always knew 

no blade would soothe the paranoia

my father gave me -- and I can't buy

myself the gift of freely offered care.

I can’t buy

 a new conviction that I don't need a knife

because a knife isn't what I need.


I should have written this poem before work today, sitting at the desk my boyfriend built for me after we moved. I hate power tools, screws whining and knots resisting, hidden cams and bolts and diagrams. He opened the flat-packed boxes with his pocketknife -- cool textured grey metal waiting calmly in his pocket for a moment to be of use. My father's ever-present black plastic sheath lived clipped to his waistband, just-in-case passing for a pager.


              No woman should move

              to New York without a knife.

              What do you want now?


I ripped packing tape with my fingers and a pen, grimaced at the drill-screams until he took it from my hands and I retreated from the room. I organized the desk today, moving papers and paints from boxes into new drawers, rifling through small containers and shuffling soft art supplies while pretending to turn opening lines over in my mind.


I opened a blue plastic box and found:

3 shitty mechanical pencils

1 wireless mouse, no USB plug

7 ballpoint pens

3 warped fridge magnets

1 box rainbow paper clips

9 expired condoms, bought just before this man, what a waste

1 unopened scotch tape

1 black mat knife: logan model 500 (for 270 blades). 


I'd bought one after all: serviceable, specific, for a printmaking class, I think. I only remember tearing the thick paper, plush like carpet or cotton-linen dollar bills, never slicing with these little razors in a sleeve. I bought so much for that class, English major playing art student and still


I cannot buy the feelings that I think I want


but I guess I knew how to buy

                                                                                    I didn't even realize that I bought

whatever I needed

                                                                                    what I thought I wanted

and kept it tucked away

Food Fight


Your eyes glitter as they meet mine,

mean and sharp as I remember,

and you let the chewed-up penne dribble

over your lips 

down your chin

and back onto your plate.


My plate. My roommate’s plate.

My landlord’s, actually 

since I’m just subletting here. I invited you

into my space (hers, hers) to reconcile,

scrub away bad blood, flick away

the scabs of wounds I can’t even remember

and you repay me with slimy semolina paste. 


You try the wine, too, sloshing it around 

and staining your teeth before 

squirting it towards the couch. 

How am I going to explain that? 

No one will believe 

I didn’t just spill my own cup again. 

Her cup. Her couch. Nothing mine

but the calories you’re spraying all over the walls. 

Revenge, it seems, is a dish best left cold and congealing

on the windowsill.


Once, I would have been happy about the waste.

Now I realize too late, you’re smiling but 

only here to punish me,

goading me to fight you about food. You flick peas 

across the room, and all I can do is eat 

like I’ve never eaten before,

docile to show how much I’ve changed

while you ruin what isn’t even mine.


You tell me how I don’t deserve 

the things I have, and

move on to the things I don’t.

You came here to remind me

my walls are not mine; my story

centers you, who learned to smack your lips  

and roll your eyes in delight

while I withered and cried. 

Every bite I never took, you spit up now

filling a stranger’s living room with fury

that I was sick. When I trimmed my world

to the footprint of a scale, I didn’t fold myself inside 

and disappear:

the sharper every bone and every minute grew,

the more my sickness touched you too.


I want to forget all that,

my empty days and disgust at your wide hips and

broad back, shining lips, pudgy fingers and 

heavy breasts like mine, our tiny eyes squinting 

and mirror piercings glistening,

find common ground amid the nothing 

that I have and build a sisterhood, 

but you’d rather smear butter into the floorboards

and pesto across the ceiling 

decorate the mantle with sautéed zucchini,

reminders of your only point:

my pain hurt you too.  

when i think about 9/11 now


i think i remember how, one by one, my friends were picked up from school early

and our fifth-grade class shrank down to a handful of stragglers

whose parents were busy working, stranded downtown,

clawing their way from the rubble, or not. 

i imagined my father in his wall street office after dropping me off,

tried to remember his building's shape or address,

unaware he'd been laid off yesterday, anyway.


i don't remember crying, because i don't remember understanding the magnitude 

of our school assembly or the smoke crawling uptown or the miles our family friend walked with it, sheltering in our home while my parents called his wife in connecticut and left me safe at school, free from the dust and knowledge and shattering fear.

i remember crowding around the windows a few weeks after, when a factory in new jersey

caught fire

and smoke filled the air again. 


when we left the city 18 months later and the second anniversary rolled around

my new classmates all had a story to share. i sat in silence and jammed a pen in my leg, incredulous, 

while everyone remembered the bomb threat called in by some high schooler’s angry boyfriend 

and they reminisced of a lockdown that kept out the news,

the blockaded doors and phone trees and unrelated paranoia,

the one student whose family called in with an update from the outside world.


i heard my little sister got to cry.

maybe her teacher called home after a lesson on the day

or maybe she cried after school and our mother coaxed a reason out between sobs,

before telling me how gentle and kind and guilt-ridden my baby sister was. 

i'd stared at the floor and she'd wept

because she was too young to remember anything

and couldn't contribute to the conversation.

Maria Napolitano lives in Astoria, Queens and works in book publishing. She has been published in Newtown Literary.