Cherry Pop-Tarts®

By Heather McNaugher

Featured Art: Interrupted Reading by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

I decide this will be it, my last pop-tart, cherry,

as I stand at the circ desk of the college library

and tear up your number

which I had written on a Post-it®, Hello Kitty®,

and then stuck to my ID.

The computer says I love you I owe 29 dollars

for Frank O’Hara and that thesaurus

I borrowed when I taught the class

how to find a synonym. I’m sorry. Hello Kitty’s ears

are burning—so tiny, so pink,

and so I pulverize them.

My students are 20; when I say Roget’s

they look at me like I’m not here; they don’t know yet

the way to say nothing articulately

is backwards. You called it—said if we . . . then we

have something that has to end

immediately. There is nowhere,

no receptacle bottomless enough in which to heave

the irreversible doll-petals, and so I stand here, a giant cramping thumb

and forefinger, handing over all my money.

I would very much like to leave you

here in the library with my fine, but am forced

to take you with me for, so help me God,

the last time. A single urgent dollar is all I’ve got;

I walk into the snack-bar like I need a shot

and a beer, “Cherry pop-tart please.” The bartender

reads a thick thriller with a weary spine,

doesn’t look up till she’s finished her last line—

says, “Looks like you got the last one”—keeps reading.

Into the crematorium toaster I drop them,

the pop-tarts too, and stand at the condiment bar

with its inconvenience and awkward intimacy

and everyone’s so fucking insipid

no one good-looking ever sidles up

for half-and-half and says, “Marry me.”

In the stillness of waiting

for my pop-tart to pop, a state of emergency, I have three minutes

to add to the list of things I’ll stop

doing tomorrow: Pop-tarts, calling Megan C.,

returning my books late, setting small fires indoors—

incidentally the last four acts I’ve performed.

Always it starts with pastry—21 years of I’ll stop

tomorrow, augmented by, at 14,

some uncommitted vomiting.

I met you 21 years ago. I was 14—a bad look for anyone,

much less a four-eyed half-assed-bulimic lesbian.

No wonder you wrote me that letter

flashing the knife friends, under which heading

our options are: acquaintance, chum, intimate (a noun)

and, my favorite—other self,

with its codependent grandiosity. Fuck you.

I keep meaning to stop substituting

cherry pop-tarts for shots and beers. But first, before things

get out of hand, I yell over to the girl at the counter, “Good for you.”

She’s 20. She looks at me. Through the smoke, I’m not here—louder,

“Good for you for reading a book,” for finding the thing

that won’t catch on fire, then disappear.


Heather McNaugher is the author of System of Hideouts and Second-order Desire, and two poetry chapbooks, Panic & Joy and Double Life. She teaches at Chatham University, where she is nonfiction editor for The Fourth River.

Originally published in NOR 6

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