Agape

by Tom Rowe

A boy: small thighs, coat aged into feathers, walks
in through the cold. Undressing his wet clothes I find
breadcrumbs in the folds of skin. He unwinds the limbs
of an apple. Milk slips from his childish lilt.
I weep as he sucks the glass like an orphan. I bring him
my blankets and I bring his knees to his chest – lined
with a kiss – and imagine a strawberry lace cording the forks

of his bones to my flesh. The house has tempted the sweet
tooth of time to leave us untouched. A cake,
warm and heavy gestates in the oven and – he is a growing
boy – strange fluids are setting on the side. He tilts
them to check their strength, their weight, knowing
soon he shall eat. His polite smile takes
little to swallow and I return to the trunk arranged in neat

folds where the apron relishes a new role
after years of wanting. He soon learns all the ways
to say food and reels them off in a rhyme.
He says them in his sleep – filling my quilt –
and I learn the passing of time
runs from orange creams to strawberry dreams and days
birth months like this. After a year, the black hole

of his empty mouth is the only sound.
Agape. On his birthday I stay up late to bake.
Hoarded sugar feels coarse and tempting between my aching palms.
I wake in the morning to only the birds and an empty platter tilted
so it shines in the sink. He is tearing chocolate flesh from chocolate arms
and smiling at me as he doesn’t even taste.
I spend the morning draped like a tea towel across the side, bound

by the oven timer. In the week he surpasses my height,
I learn to make a soufflé in seven minutes. He is kind.
He gives the two bites of mummy to make sure I never waste.
He says time moves too slowly when he is not eating. The silt
of his sleep is confessing things. A sister in a forest. Her taste.
A mother. A real mother. The breadcrumbs left behind.
I make bread and butter pudding and he spits to my face, the bite

of currants bruises my skin. The cupboards are becoming
barren. He tells me he is hungry and I give him my breakfast.
He laughs at the size and I tear the door panel off and the gingerbread
lasts him minutes. I dismantle the house. Unbuilt
it looks smaller. It will not be enough. He is a growing boy, my head
taunts. The cupboards are empty. His mouth is empty. This will not last.
My stomach is empty. Soon we are sitting with the forest around us looking

like the lid of a biscuit tin. I look to him and he is smiling. I make
a fire to keep him warm. Burn sugar he can eat in the morning.
The nights last like gobstoppers, holding the folds of his flesh
hearing the beating of his sleep. I run my hands, alive with guilt,
through his candyfloss hair. My boy. Our bodies melt into mesh.
His stomach dances with hunger. It is only me and him unwrapping
by the hiss of the cauldron. By morning, only one and his mouth. Agape.