Sandra Beasley

excerpts from Allergy Girl

Wasting. A hunger so great I bite through a pacifier.

My mother tries to fix me with more milk, more milk.

Doctors run tests on my squalling body. No breast

is safe, no cowgoatsoy milk. I nurse on apple juice.


My parents agree on one rule: Don’t break the baby.

They pour quarters into the arcade game of adulthood,

working the mechanical claw right, left, right, back,

aiming for the stuffed bear, missing. A clutch


of cheesecake. A buttermilk biscuit. Each time

my lips swelling, breath skipping. They pace the E.R.

Did we break the baby? My mother dissects labels:

casein, protein, lactylate. Easier to cook from scratch.


My father perfects Shhh, it’s not that bad, you can breathe.

Breathe. They cradle me in Benadryl. That’s the secret

of marriage: bleary silence in white rooms. Too busy

not-breaking me to take the wrecking ball to each other.






Stacking bowls. Cupping flour.

Greasing the square pan with

sunflower margarine. At twelve,

I am safe if I stick to the surfaces

of baking. When my mother’s back


is turned I trespass, caressing

the mixer, settling a knife in the butter.

I tap an egg to the bowl’s hungry lip,

stop at the half-crack. She is the one

who makes the cake’s heart beat—


pouring milk, whipping in vanilla,

taking yolks from whites. I’m charged

with the toothpicks, foil, arranging

pink sugar letters, pebbled with yellow,

that spell out Happy Birthday.


I balance the pan in both hands

all the way to school, picturing

my whole class with plates out,

singing the high tones of duty. Before

our teacher divvies it up, careful


not to touch me. Before someone says

I ought to try a slice, at least the frosting,

and gets shushed. Before they watch

as I line up twelve birthday gumdrops

in the pencil groove of my desk.





You need to go on the Nebulizer. No.

No. I was ten. If you don’t, we’ll use

the Epipen. A needle that could shoot

through denim. So I gave in

to that high altitude taste, oxygen

constellated with epinephrine.

A sound rushing, insistent.

They fitted green straps over my ears.

All I could think of were those masks

that drop from the airplane’s ceiling

when you fall more than five hundred feet

in one second. That’s it. My mother

a stewardess, perfect and distant. Relax.

They fed me sky until my lips grew cold.


Now, I have learned to be a bad patient.


I refuse IVs. I knock back two Benadryl

with vodka, asleep before asking

anyone to check, each hour, for breath.

When that long itch starts up my throat

I buy a large fries, scarf them down,

sure this greasy mash will shield

my stomach from the egg or melon

or milk protein. Same as that

doomed girl in 14C who knows

her plane is plummeting, is impatient

for the crash, but still sneaks the shade

shut between her and the ground rushing

toward glass double-paned for her safety.



“Allergy Girl” is from Theories of Falling (New Issues, 2008).