Government Cheese

by Aidan Lee

Orange cheese in a block
heavy as a rock, it lands
with a thud from fridge
to table when I come
home from school.
Every day I make a sandwich,
one for me, one for him.

I peel away cardboard
that sticks like skin. I hold the knife
(that’s been tarnished all my life.)
Cut thick slices, blade sinks in
so easily. Cheese – soft as lipstick
and just as greasy. I put it on two slices
of soft white bread that browns
in the toaster with its broken switch.

Mommy says not to waste.
Government cheese is free,
she says, but it still costs 
in more ways than pennies.
I pick up all the crumbs
with some spit dabbed on my thumb.
I slip outside into the chill. It’s getting late
for his hot snack, snug in my coat pocket.

I see him beyond the chain-link fence.
There he is, always there
he jumps so high when I go near.
I climb the fence and scrape my knee.
Quickly! Before anyone else can see.
He whines, shakes and licks his chops.
I watch him eat until he stops.

He strains so hard against his leash
that keeps him tied just out of reach.
I step closer, stroke him with my mittens.
He nuzzles my coat, makes a low sound.
I’m never afraid he will bite.
His coat, once fluffy white, is matted gray
from the ruined yard wherehe’s made to stay.

The wind scrapes my face red and raw.
I climb back over the fence as he watches me,
blue eyes misting imploringly.
I have to leave him in his yellowed snow.
I can’t bear it when he watches me go.
Now hurry back. I left out the cheese.
Put it away before mommy sees.

photo credit: public domain