Winter 2020 - Poetry

Tom Kelly

Pac-man simulation of father & son bonding time in a shopping mall food court


Father & I shuffle in circles to better adjust to the scattered banquet of Sbarro pizza & Auntie Anne’s pretzels, cookie cakes & Panda Express lo mein, the luxury of saxophone muzak while contemplating gumballs & frozen bananas. For reasons unclear, soccer moms—comprising the sum of food court patrons—have donned visors, adjusted fanny packs, & shoved their strollers out of sight. I’m spinning so much I think I’m turning into a carousel but when I ask father about the moms, he propels between tiled tables, gobbles chicken nuggets & waffle fries, barrels for a chocolate éclair, chokes down mochas.

He says this is man’s great purpose: to weave his bulk through a pre-determined landscape, maze-like in design, & consume all the food in front of him, so that he might advance to the next plane, the world to come. No mention of the multi-colored ghosts that stalk him while he upends trays of fried rice & I don’t ask because a.) the red ghost is pretty & b.) he never answered my question about the moms.

He inhales a gyro, jalapeño poppers, footlong Philly cheese steaks. Rib-racks roll on his tongue & he claims he’s unlocked the power to eat anything, even death. Perhaps because my body refuses to budge out of clockwise orbit, because—as always—I keep one eye searching for a mother I don’t have & guilt weighs my gut like a bag of bricks, I choose to believe him. “But you can’t devour what haunts you all the time,” I shout, “Someday you’ll swallow the wrong ghost.” On the court’s far side, a floating strawberry drifts past a potted palm & out of the periphery forever.



 Tom Kelly is a Creative Writing doctoral student at Florida State University. His poems appear in Redivider, Passages North, LIT, Barrelhouse, and other journals.



This project is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council

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  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.