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Stephanie Olson

Blood Orange

I am remembering my mother
how she told me of the patients
who would not let her touch them

how they would ask her
what are you?  what are you?
and she did not know what to say
how to answer that

how she was left
alone with the only other student
with skin darker than hers
undeniable skin
how they were made to practice
inserting needles and drawing blood
on oranges in a back room  

how when they tired of oranges
my mother and this other woman
also traded arms  

oh but this was Little Rock
in the seventies
maybe everything was exaggerated then
maybe there was a higher proof there  

but there is something else, too
a darker than
a not quite known
something innocuous made dangerous
someone bedridden spitting at her offer
of relief
a healthy orange offering no resistance
something so easily held in the palm
but with such heft
such weight  

did they ever peel and eat them
share them
did anyone?  

did they toss them to rot in the dark of some
break room garbage
did they know then?  

of course
what was there not to know?  

this, I am remembering this after the dream
of a dinner plate shattering in the air before me
so suddenly that I couldn’t help but breathe it in
and there are flat shards of plate in my throat
and on my tongue
and between my gums
and I cannot talk to ask for help
I can only look out at the bodies
of water and sky before me
so blue
and hurt  

I cannot reach out because my hands are full
I am holding another plate
one full of food
and I worry about spilling or dropping it  

I stand there and hurt
with my eyes full of blue
and my mouth full of plate
and my hands full of food
and I wake up
and thirst

Stephanie Olson is a mother, writer, and artist in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Her work has appeared with Red Bird Chapbooks, Versus Literary Journal, and the Lumen blog.
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