This Strawberry This
by Jennifer L. Freed
A hundred years ago in Hong Kong, I stood strangely
in a cluttered shop on a cluttered corner, gazing
at unexpected American candy bars
that had crossed the Pacific to land there
on those shadowed shelves. Names from such a distant
place – Mars, Milky Way, 5th
Avenue. I stood and stared
for such a while that the clerk asked if I was ill. No.
I had been away: six months
in the Chinese mainland, where there were no
such luxuries of once-familiar food.
The candy was extravagantly dear, foreign
import price, and I was barely
out of college, was in Hong Kong only long
enough for booster shots (encephalitis, hepatitis, malaria).
What little money I had
had to last me another six months
back in the People’s Republic, and then
still fly me home. So the choice
of which chocolate to buy, the choice of whether
to buy at all
seemed a matter of slow and grave consideration.
And so I stood, and gazed, and weighed with care the options
of nut and caramel, of nougat and crunch, or of none
of these, and I knew that what I bought, if
I bought, would not be casually
chewed, but allowed to soak
on my tongue, to last, for it would be the last
time I would have a chance
to taste my home for yet another half a year. And maybe that’s why
now, worlds later, in this other
life, the one with children’s schoolwork spread across the kitchen
table, and flowered backpacks piled up by the door – in this
life, when I come home late one evening, stomach panging
for my missed dinner, and I grab
a handful of this and a clutch of that, quickly
chewing without even a plate because the harried day has not yet left
my bones, I am suddenly stilled
by a bite of summer strawberry.
Chilled from the ‘fridge.
Taste this, a part of me says. Pay attention.
takingly good. This
is the only this