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Did you give a name
to your longing?
Did you set out knowing what you’d buy
with your bindle full of gold?
Was it the blinking women, the sweeter food,
was it men in baths
when you stepped down humid stairs
to find their toweled torsos
was it a girl with lace, had she visited your palace
home and left you wanting?

Was it cake
was it prickly pear, guava, date, cherry, fruits not in season
but kept cold or ferried in from other lands?

I want to know how it happened
how the bindle’s gold was spent
or stolen by winking friends or women or
men whose tongues and strokes upon your
hairless shoulder made you think this is forever this
feeling – when did it begin, the stomach rumbling and the ugly
wanting? And when you hungered did you eat earth,
leather, tree bark, shit?

You landed in mud with your pigs—
You wanted their carobs, wanted the woody,
sick-sweet meat
oh how you fingered the bean
(so like the fingers you’d sucked).

You hungered for joy and got nothing but pigs
no, not even pigs. Neither their flesh nor their food
passed your sore-ridden lips. Was it for the want of fingers, navels,
breasts,  you fled a pious, empty house?
When the master looked away did you take
and eat a bean
or two?

I am hungry
but for knowledge. I want to know,
was it for spirit or for flesh that you left
your father? What made you into the
storied prodigal

And when your father met his skeleton child,
that robe, that plush and multicolored robe, purple
as your sores—did it cover up a battered, bleeding body, and
that pool of mud did you ever really leave it?
Or did you sit with your father’s ring
tightening against your finger
did you sit still wishing for women,
did you sit still wishing for men?

Was it not hunger but this
their stubby faces was it their blond bristles against their swiny
skin colored like your own festering wound was it    
not the want of a carob, not
that long wooden finger in your mouth but rather
the faces the bristly snouts too much like yourself
that sent you running
father father father

I don’t want your  ring I don’t want your robe I don’t want
a party or that fattened calf I want you
to look at me show me, father, who I am.

Joanna Eleftheriou

Joanna Eleftheriou is author of the essay collection This Way Back. Her poems and essays appear in Bellingham Review, Arts and Letters, and Sweeter Voices Still: An LGBTQ Anthology from Middle America. A contributing editor at Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction StudiesJoanna holds a PhD in English from the University of Missouri and teaches at Christopher Newport University and the Writing Workshops in Greece.