SWWIM publishes, celebrates, & promotes women, women-identifying & Femme-presenting writers through a Miami-based reading series & the online poetry journal SWWIM Every Day.

What Fear? by Jeanne Foster

On the other side of the plate glass window,

they sipped coffee, chatted—her mother had a smoke—

relaxed finish to a Sunday morning breakfast

under the signature orange roof,


Howard Johnson’s, Biscayne Boulevard, Old Miami.

Bug-eyed, boxy cars parked at the curb, her space

just a strip of sidewalk, a little plot of St. Augustine grass

neatly mowed, and the predictable manicured shrubs


close to the window. It was good enough,

a watchful presence with space around it

for the little girl to play in. She forgot them,

alone with a bush that sported brilliant red seeds.


She plucked off a seed. Up close she could see

a shining black eye. With the preoccupation

of a scientist or an artist, she put the seed

between her teeth to see if she could crack it.


“Don’t eat that seed, little girl,” a voice

fractured her private world. “It’s poisonous.”

She stumbled indoors to her mother’s side—sobbing,

“That lady told me not to eat it. I wasn’t going to eat it,”


the red seed with the shining black eye still clutched

in her folded palm, which her mother gently opened. 

“Did you eat the seed, chickadee?” “No, I just

wanted to see how hard it was.” “Then it’s okay.”


On the other side of the plate glass window,

the lady, her husband obediently behind,

got into the car and drove away.

But the fear stayed.


Not of the poison. It was the stranger’s voice

that followed the little girl out into the world,

in which Howard Johnson’s under the orange roof

would circle the globe, then go extinct.



Jeanne Foster’s latest poetry collection, Goodbye, Silver Sister, was released by Northwestern University Press, 2015. She is also the author of A Blessing of Safe Travel, which won the Quarterly Review of Literature Poetry Award, and co-editor of Appetite: Food as Metaphor, an anthology of poems by women (BOA). Her poems, critical work and memoir have appeared in Hudson Review, Triquarterly, North American Review, Ploughshares, Literary Imagination, and American Poetry Review. Professor Emerita of English Literature and Creative Writing at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California, she divides her time between Berkeley and Le Convertoie, a medieval borgo in Tuscany. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she is also a Unitarian Universalist minister.

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