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Lathyrus Sativus

by Shelby Parks

Madrid, 1808

Grimy streets filled with bustling bare feet,
peddlers beg and small boys meddle-
not even the baker can come by a bit of bread.
Hunger hangs down from the sky. The courtyard
crowd dwindles each week, now a pitifully clumsy crew.
A suffocating starvation soaks through
scarves, sandals, and saddle blankets
on its way to the skin,
till it sinks into the stomach
and just stays there, stuck.

A simple solution lies inside a modest seed:
a nutritious legume whose stalk will bloom
even in the worst of weather.
Desperate, the swarms of bony elbows and wrists
reach out and take it, take it down by the pound.
But their so-called savior
is a sword with several sides.
The grass pea acts graciously as supplement
Yet, its seed served solo is a sentence to certain death.

Vapniarca, 1943

Bodies are bunched in the barracks where
stiff wood meets stiffer joints.
Outside, men are expected to stand at attention
after watching their wives collapse in the trenches.
Their cheeks and chins stay gouged out by shadows,
even at midday.
At first the men are given stale gray oats
and fed bread that is barely bread.
But soon the too familiar legume begins to appear in the soup.
So is the start to a sadistic study.

Green clad officers feed the even greener seed.
The prisoners strike against their rations.
It’s too late; the molecules have traction.
A walk across the room becomes a strenuous marathon.
There is no feeling in the legs.
There’s nothing for the stomach to digest.
Yet all is sound in the head until there is no breath.

Alaska, 1992

The skies are blank. The grass is quiet.
One young man, McCandless, stands on the bleak, bare land
with a plant manual in one hand. He pens with the other,
much trouble just to stand.
He’s the only soul from here to the highway,
and that’s across the river, miles away.

The flesh of last week’s squirrel left his lips six long days ago.
Since, he has been consuming the sinful seed and expecting sustenance.
After all, it was sited as safe in the standard handbook.

He knows not of the sergeant Mergescu or the work of Goya.
He hasn’t heard of the decaying claim made in Ukraine,
or seen the evidence in
Gracias a la Almorta.

He is the hooded woman doubled over in a back alley of Madrid.
He is the Jewish man limping against ankle chains.
His energy has left him, by a toxic fault.
One last journal entry reads:
too weak to walk.

Shelby Parks: I am a student in California studying biochemistry and
creative writing. A native to Colorado, I enjoy skiing and hiking.
World's Best Poems, p. 19

Lathyrus Sativas

by Shelby Parks
(Denver, Colorado, USA)

First Place: US Poetry Contest #1
Top USA Poet: US Poetry Contest #1
Originally Published in
US Poetry Magazine, September 23, 2018
"Lathyrus Sativas" by Shelby Parks
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