Dinner – New Poetry by Mary Paulson

Joint Winner of The Letter Review Prize for Poetry


The fundamental misunderstanding is that we 
sit across from one another in 
easy companionship – 
childhood friends meeting once monthly.

Tonight, I drag my armfuls of ghosts out for agony
and beef tips, some goulash squash.
The conversation focuses, as usual,
on you, your boyfriend, your job, your recent 
shopping spree and you’re suffering—
the frankly, unbelievable stress involved—

What it takes for you to be your true, authentic self and 
how best for that self to get her next needs met

I say all the right things. String 
my syllables together with an art I know pleases you.

Proceed via murmur and assent.
Yes, of course! Affirm your outrage,
No! He didn’t, she 
didn’t, the absolute nerve, the balls!

I maintain the fiction
that you respect me and I like you.

Part of me can’t help but be in awe
of your over-confidence, as you 
chat happily between 
mouthfuls of cow and sips of Sauvignon Blanc.

As you wave away the dessert menu, then 
reach over repeatedly to devour my favorite, chocolate éclair.

The assumption that no matter a lifetime of 
your casual cruelties, humiliations— I remain constant. 

I continue to keep things safe for you,
your whispered gossip and
misdeeds, your private 
degradations and desperations.

I hold them close to my heart, imagine 
squeezing, crushing, deflating—

I admit it’s paltry for me to amass an arsenal  
of intimacies to wield as weapons,
wishing upon you 
the emotional equivalent of having your skin flayed off. 

I agree it’s feeble, even deleterious, 
to seethe from the depths of my being, this childish incantation:

I hate you. I want all your stuff. 
Your Birkin, your designer 
boyfriend, your powdered nails, your 
costumed face, your unspoiled, uninvaded space.

You’re so ungrateful! 
I want you to have nothing and wish you were me.

Mary Paulson’s writing has appeared in multiple journals most recently in Door Is A Jar, The Closed Eye Open, the Corvus Review, Spank the Carp, Unleash, The Opiate, The Café Review and The Rumen. She was recently awarded third prize for her poem, “Pantoum at Sixteen” by the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society. Her chapbook, Paint the Window Open, was published in 2021 by Kelsay Press. She lives in Naples, Florida. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.