First Morning in London
BY JEAN TUCKER
In the bed-and-breakfast on Russell Square
where morning seeps through the lace curtains
like dishwater from the oatmeal pan,
Madame Valentine stands glaring,
hair upswept, arms crossed, and scolds me
for carving away the pearly rim of fat
from the slice of boiled ham draped
next to the egg on the worn china plate.
That’s good food. Don’t waste it. In the war
we ate everything.
Had I not just slid from the high prickly bed
to the chill linoleum, fed a fat coin
into the slot of the electric fire,
washed all over in cold water
from the pitcher and basin on the washstand,
shivered into my clothes?
I hunched over the plate, lifted a bit
of the white stuff onto my tongue,
crammed in a piece of thin dry toast
from the wire toast caddy.
But it is always too late.
Too late for the dropped pot of steaming milk,
for the children in China
on whose famished account we were made to eat our peas.
Too late for the two-year-old with toothpick limbs
limp as a rag doll in the arms of a father
who trudged three desert days to the feeding camp.
For all those hands reaching up from the past,
the future a wet nurse
to yesterday’s hungers.