by T.J. Sandella
Featured Art: Actor’s Mask by Paul Klee
Read by the author.

I confused guacamole

with guano

until I was seventeen

when my girlfriend’s mom

patiently explained the difference

plopping a dollop onto my plate

next to the Spanish rice

catapulting me

on the long flight

from meat and potatoes

to masala and paneer

for the first time

as a freshman in college

tartare and foie gras

as a grad student

and so it goes

the older I get

the farther I travel

with my tongue

curries and compotes

caraway and cardamom

ginger and jasmine

and planes and trains

to aromatic rooms

in cities I can taste

better than I can pronounce


which have all led me here

30 years old

an orphan

more or less

alone in the corner of Cleveland’s

only Ethiopian restaurant

named after the 3.2 million-year-old fossil

unearthed in the Awash Valley

with the skull of an ape

and the gait of a human

bipedal bones scientists celebrated

as evolution’s missing link

and named Lucy

after the Beatles’ song

that played as they dusted

and chiseled and called deans

and spouses


Lucy’s Bar and Restaurant

named after a fossil

named after Lennon’s psychotropic fever dream

time collapses on itself

here in Old Brooklyn

a beat-down neighborhood

on the outskirts of the city

that watched steel production

move to China in the ’90s

as poverty blazed through the Midwest

condemning homes

and shuttering store fronts

but amazingly

Lucy’s Bar and Restaurant survives

you can go there

and listen to the grease-stained regulars

hold-overs from the location’s

previous incarnation

as the working class watering hole

and the drinks are still cheap

and you must walk through a cloud of smoke

to find a barstool

where I sit and shovel spicy shiro

with injera

a spongey bread served with every meal

like pita or naan

used to transport food from plate to mouth

in lieu of silverware

my oily fingers

wrapped around a Rolling Rock

to extinguish the heat

before I move on to the other samplings

on the vegetarian platter

that I’ve been thinking about all week

big enough for two

but I intend to eat

every last morsel 

my indulgence for surviving

another five days at a desk

in an office an hour away

from the town where I was born


how far we must wander

from ourselves and our parents

and then back

to discover what we really love

to unlearn the fork and knife

and spoon and eat with our hands

the legumes and spices

that gave birth to all else

paprikash and power lines

psalms and spaghetti

marriage and meatloaf and me

and the dim smoky corners

of my body

where I can still sometimes feel

my mother and father

and all of my ancestors

and I think they’re laughing

and singing

as they pass a plate

huddled together

around a fire

over which I warm my hands

thousands of years later

though I am alone

at Lucy’s Bar and Restaurant

eating a meal

meant for two.


T.J. Sandella is the author of Ways to Beg (Black Lawrence Press, 2021) and is the recipient of two Academy of American Poets Prizes, an Elinor Benedict Prize for Poetry, a William Matthews Poetry Prize, and two Pushcart Prize nominations. A former contributor to NOR, his work has also appeared in the Best New Poets anthology, Poet Lore, the Chattahoochee ReviewPoetry Northwest, and Hotel Amerika, among others. You can find him @egregiousteej or in Cleveland, Ohio with his puppy, Rufio.

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