at that woman in the diner wearing

a sumo wrestler coat of flesh.

Her legs won’t fit together.

Her love handles droop unlovingly.

Her chin and arms have hammocks. She can’t

get her chair close enough to the table.

Her bacon cheeseburger drips grease

into her mountainous lap.

She could be me. My father

with his Russian starvation—Ess, ess.

Every bit on your plate

you must eat. Peaches,

sour cream, lick the bowl, lick. Ess, ess.


3:00 a.m. I wake. Pulled by a tide of night.

I touch the walls to guide me. I step,

barefoot, on the cold face of the scale.

Through my half-closed eyes, the lit numbers

shine up to me like a verdict.

I hear my dead mother say,

“You’re putting on the pounds, tsk, tsk.”


Mother, you used to drink black coffee

for breakfast, for lunch. Your dinner—canned

green beans and Mrs. Paul’s fillet of flounder

steamed. You whittled yourself down to a size

four, but still you couldn’t forgive the small roll

of flesh at the waistband of your girdle

from bearing four children,

the flesh you couldn’t lose without losing yourself.


Are you giddy to be weightless at last

or do you wish you had the gravity, the gravitas,

to put your soles on the scale, and weigh in?


In the morning, I will jog on the track,

running from the coat of fat my father

holds out for me, waiting for me

to stop, put my arms in, and button up.

Ess, ess.





Her coat was dark with caramel spots around her eyes,

muzzle, and paws. How surprised

I was when I ran my hand over her fur,

that both the dark and light of it was the same soft bristliness.

Her pointy ears twitched when she panted.

Her breath smelled like Alpo,

but I let her lick my lips with her taste bud bumpy tongue.

For a pup, her barks were husky.

I sucked a dog biscuit just to know how her treats tasted.

When I walked her, she stayed as close to my heels

as a shadow. I never had to grip her leash.

She hid behind me, trembling, when she saw other dogs

and was spooked by sidewalk sparrows.


The day I stumbled backward off the front step

and stamped on her right front caramel paw,

my heart yammered in my head. Oh, her yowls!


I remember my mother in her flannel work shirt,

her molded orthopedic shoes and the Ace bandage

on her bad ankle, and the tears

running down her rouged cheeks.

“I can’t work at your father’s grocery, take care

of four kids, a house, and a crippled hund that stinks

and sheds. I’m taking it to a nice farm.”


I remember the spit of gravel in the driveway

as my mother jerked our Red Rambler out, Queenie’s

paws scrabbling on the back window,

even the stepped-on one.


The first night I have to sleep without Queenie

snuffling beside me, I see her limping

through tall weeds, hiding from mice

beneath a cuticle of moon.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is a professional phone psychic like the heroine of her novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2004) and it’s sequel, the Indie Finalist, Kaylee’s Ghost (2012). Her essays have appeared in New York Times (Lives), Newsweek, and many anthologiesl. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in The MacGuffin, The Iowa Review, Peregrine, Harpur Palette, and more. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry by Pennsylvania English. Currently she teaches writing at UCLA Extension.
Twitter: @rjshapiro