Punctuation
by Christine Butterworth-McDermott

When the young black man walks in,
the baker stops kneading the dough,
and holds each warm ball of it suspended.
We say Tommy’s name, but he cannot answer.

The young man wears a uniform,
But because Tommy looks so strange,
whiter than his normal whitefish pallor,
and he’s shaking, I can’t connect

the uniform to anything I know.
The young man is cutting through the bakery
like an exclamation point. Tommy starts
sobbing—huge, heavy gasps rack his frame

and sound oddly like the clanking of pans.
I suddenly remember “my son”
and “Afghanistan.” When the young man
reaches him, Tommy put his big mitts

all over his face, touching its planes
over and over, leaving floured fingertips
on his cheeks, as if pressing him
into place, shaping him into something tangible.

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 2.

Christine-McDermottChristine Butterworth-McDermott is an associate professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, where she teaches creative writing and fairy tales. She is the author of a chapbook, Tales on Tales: Sestinas, and a full-length collection, Woods & Water, Wolves & Women.

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