The Sunday afternoon I refused to eat meat,
Mom had gone to work in the confectionary
below the apartment in which we lived
on Barthman Avenue. My father’s tyrannical
shadow loomed behind my seven-year-old
back as I stared at the slice of pot roast.
He insisted I eat the meat. I hated meat,
but had managed in the past to swallow
a few bites with Mom in the wings urging me
to eat more.

My gag reflex anticipated
the first mouthful. Surrendering to his threats,
I pulled a strip from a large chunk, gaged
at the tear of fiber, the separation of brown,
ribbon-like strings. I forced the forkful
into the darkness of my nausea.
He wasn’t satisfied with pretense
of eating, and struck me. His slap burned.
I focused on cabinets, intent on dark
grain, thought about dishes safe behind closed
doors. I felt tightness around my upper torso.
Before I could realize his next move,
he wound rope around my waist and chest.
His anger improvised a gag from a dish towel.
I shrank away from hope that Mom would enter
and take my side against the undershirted dad
who warned me to bestow thanks for my food.

Tonight, I write this poem about escape.
I see it once more, eventual release
from ropes, the blast of breath into my lungs
when he finally removed the gag.
My forehead ached. Eventually I swallowed
the meat, my last vision of that dinner:
asking to be excused from the table.

R. Nikolas Macioci earned a PhD from The Ohio State University. He is the author of seventeen books. In 2021, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net award. In 2022, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He was nominated Best of the Net for 2023.