Today’s homework assignment? A free verse poem about a childhood memory.

Brussel Sprouts

They lay unmoving upon my plate, their pale green veins pulsating with pungency capable of burning future nostril hairs.

“Clean your plate,” she says from the chair adjacent mine. “They’re good for you.”

The tines of my fork poke the outer leaves, seeking remnants of the accompanying pork, already a distant memory.

 

The melted butter, once a liquid chaser, has congealed to an Elmer’s coating around each miniature cabbage head.

“You aren’t getting dessert until you finish,” she says, removing empty dishes to scrape and rinse for another day.

I swallow back a gag reflex triggered by the imagined effort of sparing starving children in Africa.

 

Like lizard eyes, dead upon my plate, they stare up, unblinking, double dog daring me to comply with my mother’s wishes.

“No television until you have eaten at least one,” she calls from the family room where the laugh track of Hogan’s Heroes mocked my efforts.

Stabbing through the tough exterior to clink against the pink flowered Melmac, I hold my breath.

 

I watch the fork as it rises, the distance between plate and lips diminishing, I close my eyes.

“You are not getting up from that table until you eat those Brussel sprouts,” she yells from the stairs on her way to bed.

The cold, hard, miniature cabbage lands hard against my tongue, my teeth clamp down, mincing the vile vegetable with typewriter precision. I swallow.

 

Dropping the fork upon the table, I grab for my glass, milk warm yet wet, a favorite flavor flooding my mouth, rescuing me, comforting me.

“Time for bed, Puddin,” my father appears, a favorite country seldom heard from.

Together we carry my plate, minus one Brussel sprout, to the sink and turn toward bed.

 

Mom greets me with a kiss at the stop of the stairs, the ordeal complete, my success acknowledged.

“I’ll never make my kids eat Brussel sprouts,” I tell her, toothbrush in hand, vigorously removing any vestiges of vegetable.

Mom power is formidable and must be used for good. I never did get dessert.

by Deborah Chaddock Brown