blackmail press 28
Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle
New Zealand

Zarah is an undergraduate student at the University of Auckland. Her work has appeared in online and print publications such as Turbine, Snorkel, and Takahe. She was the featured poet for Poetry NZ #39.

Kitchen - Charles Olsen
The Lemon 

On the table
in front of each of us
there were two slips of paper.

On one, we had to write
our personal warning
signs of stress.

On the other, we had to write
things we could do
to alleviate these signs.

What were we
supposed to do
if both slips had the same
words written on them?

Then, we were told
to close our eyes, and “relax”.
Imagine a lemon, he said,
imagine a lemon
in your mind, where is
this lemon? Is it

in a fruit bowl surrounded
by other fruit? Is it
on a tree? Is it just
floating in space?
Smell the lemon—
is it pungent or sweet?
Fetid or fresh?
And now

I want you to reach
out and touch
this lemon in your mind
this lemon
in your mind
your mind—

And lick it.
Lick it. Can you taste it?
Can you taste the lemon?

(No one
Said a word).

If you can’t
taste the lemon
that says a lot
about your personality.


Yes, it is true, I have
bought myself a new
personality. Only $5
from Woolworths, a bargain.
I opened it slowly, gently,
in the privacy of my own kitchen,
careful not to cut my fingers
on the edges. Strange taste,
strong, salty— something
that’ll make you sit up straight
in your chair. I’m sure
I’ll get used to it.
It’s heavy in my stomach but
it’s making my mind lighter,
clearing my indecision.
I am changing; tomorrow
this old skin will be gone—
I’ll be different.
Isn’t that
what you always wanted?


You know, he could not stand
The taste of garlic with meat.
A roast lamb, cooking
for hours in the womb of the oven
surrounded by potatoes, my mother
working for flavour and nourishment.
A long day. First he complained
that there were only peas—
peas; what about other vegetables?
And no mint sauce. Only dregs
in a bottle which had expired.
He picked up his fork. Old,
ten years older than my mother,
but such a child— one bite,
he stood and walked
to the bin and cleared his plate.
Fool! Garlic is a wonderful
tonic for high blood pressure.
No. Nothing would lower it,
not the celery juice my mother
made him each morning,
not the salt shaker’s
absence from the table.
He walked through the world
with an anger, a clove of hurt
inflicted years before, maybe
self-inflicted, stuck into flesh
something he kept,
he could not rid the taste of.