Brother at the Kitchen Table

From: Poems for the American Brother

“Brother at the Kitchen Table”

Your yellow, smoke-stained teeth –
your gradually expanding beer gut –
some signs are obvious.
But others do require a few questions
of thought and reasoning:

1.) How long must one wait
for the liver to begin offering
signs of forfeit?

2.) Does the voluntary absence
of an individual’s wife and children
outweigh the importance of one’s health?

3.) What may limit one’s ability to identify
the more subtle signs
of a malignant tumor’s presence?

No, you need not answer. Sitting
at the kitchen table with you, I can read
your sleepy, drunken, smoky silence:
a Marlboro delicately resting
between your right hand’s middle and pointer fingers;
a bottle of Bud in the grasp of your left;
eyes shut; head hung low;
exhausted, though too much on your mind
to fully sleep.

What is it that you need? What is it
that you want? Just one more beer
before you take a late-night trip
on down to the Rez
for a cheaper, tax-free carton of smokes?

(Your level far past .08)

Or is your compulsive method
that my eyes soak up what they see, my ears
what you senselessly mutter
and tomorrow not remind you of today?

Sleep, brother, sleep.
Let the cigarette smoke itself.
I’ll take care of the kitchen.

Credit: First appeared in Slipstream 26: 39.