A Literary Magazine in Support of the Jewish Community

Back to Issue Nine


"An Ode to Swallowing" by Betsy Mars

An Ode to Swallowing

when even a spoonful is too much,

you feed on a line of sugar water,

heart thrumming like a hummingbird


when your throat narrows

along with the road ahead

and fear of aspiration

fills you with dread


when the lump in your throat

becomes an unspoken apology

in mine


when the line is drawn

between ritual and survival

and a meal is made of air


when the tart smoothness

of a teaspoonful of yogurt

distills a perfect sweetness


from our first gulp of air at birth

to the first solid that we consume,

we take for granted the breath,

nourishment, swallow the fear of choking


in time, we begin our vigil, watch

our elders, then become our elders—

each bite a promise and a threat,

the irony cruel on our tongues


if we’re lucky, return to gruel,

swallow what we must.

Betsy Mars

Betsy Mars is a prize-winning poet, photographer, and assistant editor at Gyroscope Review. Her poetry has been published in numerous journals and anthologies. Recent poems can be found in ONE ART, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Sheila-Na-Gig, and Autumn Sky Poetry Daily. Her photos have appeared online and in print, including one which served as the Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge prompt in 2019. She has two books: Alinea (Picture Show Press, 2019) and her most recent, co-written with Alan Walowitz, In the Muddle of the Night (independently published in 2021). In addition, she also frequently collaborates with San Diego artist Judith Christensen, most recently on an installation entitled “Mapping Our Future Selves.”



Betsy Mars