Din of shrieks, chair scrapes,
thumps and clanks—it’s loud. Under
a mineral glare, children hurtle
into the cavernous room. Threaded
in the commotion are those
with no money for lunch. They might
have stamps on their hands or neon bracelets.
They might be made to clean the tables,
their classmates’ glances raking their backs
in pity or mockery or simple confusion
at what poverty looks like. They might
even be standing in line, trays filled
with apples and macaroni, fig bars and milk,
only to have the trays wrenched from their hands
and dumped in the garbage. This happens
in a school with ABCs and 4 X 7
and various whales and Rosa Parks.
A column of numbers snakes down a page—
lunch debt, with its sharp, venomous bite.
Mercedes Lawry has published poetry in such journals as Poetry, Nimrod, Prairie Schooner, and Harpur Palate. Thrice-nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she’s published two chapbooks. Her manuscript Small Measures was selected for the Vachel Lindsay Poetry Prize from Twelve Winters Press and will be published in 2018. She was a finalist for the 2017 Airlie Press Prize and the 2017 Wheelbarrow Press Book Prize. She’s published short fiction, essays, and stories and poems for children. She lives in Seattle.