Poetry: Total by Jonathan S Baker


She's talking to me and it's important 
but it's heavy and it's early.
My mind is a sponge,
dry and brittle and full of holes.
I don't know what she is looking for
but I pray it's on the side
of this cereal box.
I'm sorry I can't talk
about your mother at this moment.
I'm reading over these documents.
         Nutritional Facts
serving size three - quarters of a cup
How many bowls would it take
to equal all the nutrients 
in a single cup of Christ?
Her mother isn't getting around well.
She wants a bed in my library for when
her mom comes to stay,
to be infirm, to die.
My parents had the good grace 
to not be a burden,
to bow out early.
There is 110 calories
150 with skim milk
just enough to wet the bowl
even my corn flakes are thirsting for more.
Thinking about the milk, in my head 
I make a joke about her mother 
being a cow too dried up to make milk,
but it's because I'm conditioned 
to make mother-in-law jokes
by primetime sitcoms
and not anything against her
She's fine. life is fine.
I have needs.
I need %100 of my daily requirements
based on a 2,000 calorie diet,
based on skin that needs touched,
based on an ego that needs stroked,
based on what I hear on the street.
Her mom needs to be cared for
by the daughter she didn't care for.
To be fair, my introduction to her
was horror stories.
Gut punching.
Total Fat
saturated and trans
maybe I'm not a man
I keep failing at manhood.
How many bowls would I have to eat
to equal the total euphoria
of being held and cared for and
to feel safe?
Why is this a question of manhood?
Her mother would probably know.
She is still talking about the future.
I am focusing on sodium.
I want to walk to the sea 
where I will scoop salt
from the shores with my bare hands.
Be like him.  Be peace for me please.
I will leave soon for work
and we only have now.
She is still talking 
her mother's situation is dire
and I only have the ingredients left
corn maybe from my hometown
and preservatives, life preservers from spoilage.
and dyes. Even my breakfast is made up
hiding behind a spray of
yellow.  Makes it look fresh
young and ahead
of a life that is going to drag it down.
I raise my bowl to my lips
drink from this 
this is my blood
and know everlasting life.
Walking with my box and bowl
I kiss her, a peck on the cheek.
Three names for sugar
and love still ain't too sweet.
It's a requirement an obligation
a debt you didn't sign up for
to a loan shark charging interest
on a complete breakfast 
you never got to eat.
As I walk my empty 
bowl and spoon to the sink 
I hear her 
I love her
and I want this
and she wants this
but I can't afford all
the cereal it would take
to get any satisfaction
out of this anymore.

Jonathan S Baker lives and works in Evansville Indiana just above the frown of the Ohio River. They are the author of 13 books of poetry including being the co-author of Centaur from Dark Heart Press.