When I Answered “Tender”

This poem is a follow up to one I wrote some time ago about answering "good" when asked how I was. The picture was one taken about four years ago when I was hanging out with girlfriends for an evening. I love how we change. Today I am tender and not drinking much, a sip here or there, instead of a bottle :)

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When I Answered “Tender”


"Tender" I said to the cashier
at the local grocery
who was working the express lane,
who expressively and expressly
asked me how I was.
In the time it took for her to
scan an avocado,
I decided to see what would happen
if I was honest,
to not answer fine or good,
as I always do.

Taking stock of my day,
I considered my nerves and children,
my partner and town,
the moon, tides and leaves falling,
the early darkening sky.
I could have answered,
sensitive, soft, open, holding,
but tender seemed to catch them all.

There was a woman stacking
cans of soda with purpose
behind me, and I could see
the cashier trying to decide
how to best respond
and not knowing how, shared,
“Oh, I always answer
excellent if I am at work,
and awesome if I am at home.”

I took in the grocer's perfectly
dyed and curled hair,
her husky, no nonsense voice,
forearms toned from hoisting
gallons of milk and 20 lb bags of pet food
onto revolving belts and into shopping carts.
I thought surely we didn’t come from
the same family, have the same schooling,
hail from the same planet.

All kinds of pathy and pithy
and pity flashed in her eyes,
not my intention at all,
rather I was taking a stab
at living more authentically.
I felt ashamed,
wanted to suck the murky gas of truth
back into my mouth and swallow.

As I loaded my car,
I pondered, how to best honor us both,
after all, the market is not a walk in clinic
at mental health services.
I needed to wrap it up for her,
the way she smartly packed my paper bag,
should have grounded our interaction,
the way she put my heavy items on the bottom,
to let her know I wouldn’t
be needing a mop,
no clean up at register one.

Next time I might tell her
I am salty as a bag of chips,
sweet as the sixteen kinds
of sugar on aisle six.
Today I could have chosen
tender as the marinated rib eye in the deli,
tender as the ripe pears you have on special,
tender, tender as a slice of your artisan
sourdough apricot walnut bread,
both the first and last bite.