Mara Rothman



Jen Schneider

Door bells chime as laughter streams and dances across the metal-framed entry. Signs warning “bathrooms for customers only” plaster the bulletproof glass. Raw hands pull and push, then hold the grimy metal handle as groups wander in and out. Like tiny butterflies, monarchs, some with gossamer wings, others with brushed feet. Jeweled fleets adorned in colorful coats of faux fur, crushed velour, and rich, supple leathers. Red frosted noses, cherry lips, and muffed ears atop bodies warmed by mixes of wool, polyester, and supple cottons, despite voiced complaints of bitter cold. Hot chocolates, warm lattes, and toasted breads warm outreached hands—me first, gimme, yes—as cash register bells jingle. Fingertips cup rusted tin cans as whispers track nickels, dimes, and pennies dropping. Dog barks, stay away. Army green jacket, back on active duty, covers ground and warms bottoms, for no more than a moment in time. Veteran eyes track and count bodies as they enter, then exit, establishments replete with food and ale.

We sit, knee high, as our hands

open and close, open and close

gates to the warm bounty.

Soft words of thanks drift, above heads, with quick flicks

of the hand. Like a moth shooed for fear of poking holes in favorite fabrics and lives

crafted to inequitable perfection. Shoo, go away, get out of here. Can’t risk germs

on coveted sustenance. Young boy carries plastic bag of discarded

meats, half-eaten sandwiches, and plates of dropped, ketchup-soaked fries. Agile arm flings parcel over left shoulder, back, then forward, like a trigger—ouch

then deep into the dumpster’s belly.

My own belly growls back, a deep roar, crying not for food but for all I’ve lost.

Lost first steps, birthdays, bus stop gatherings. Lost. Have you seen her?

My belly roars in response and defense. Our wilted, warped cardboard signs speak,

dutifully, of needs for food and water. Brown leather shoes, fancy patent pumps, stylish high-tops stomp out our handiwork and our voices. Do you hear me?

No bites.

No first steps.

No friendly fist bumps.

No garbage bags of food.

For us.

Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Recent work appears in The Popular Culture Studies Journal, Toho Journal, The New Verse News, Zingara Poetry Review, Streetlight Magazine, Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals.

Mara Rothman is a New York based photographer and film maker. They are inspired by subjects such as psychology, mythology, surrealism, and the absurd.