“My Brother” by Katharyn Howd Machan
My brother lives in a box of cigars.
Each day every day
he lifts the lid to peek at the world
and hopes the world won’t notice.
Bristles grow on his face and throat.
He smells, fears soap.
He never throws his loose hairs away
but carefully keeps them, dirty and dark,
in the teeth of a green plastic comb.
Long ago he spent years committing incest.
I survived but we never mention it.
He’s thirty-five now and still lives with our mother.
My favorite joke when I visit is to talk
of the time I stabbed his thigh with a fork
and sent him screeching around the table
for ruining my first perfect crayoned picture.
We pretend to laugh and the scar
does not go away. Migraine headaches
take me back to the fork, to the fort
he built under cool pines
where he wouldn’t let me visit
unless I would…and I did.
Now he does his best to repel.
He rots his teeth, sucks his cigars,
growls and belches and grows fat.
Each night every night
he grows a little smaller inside.
One morning my mother, weeping,
may find he’s flickered out at last,
a small gray heap in an ashtray.
I’ll visit, leave the jokes behind,
bring instead a perfect crayoned picture
to wrap around his coffin.
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Katharyn Howd Machan Artist Statement:
Katharyn Howd Machan, Professor of Writing at Ithaca College in central New York,
holds degrees from the College of Saint Rose, the University of Iowa, and Northwestern
University. Her poems have received many awards and have appeared in numerous
magazines and in anthologies and textbooks such as The Bedford Introduction to
Literature, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013, Poetry: An Introduction,
Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now, Sound and Sense, Writing Poems, and
Literature: Reading and Writing the Human Experience. The most recently published of
her 32 collections are Wild Grapes: Poems of Fox (Finishing Line Press, 2014—first
runner up in national contest), H (Gribble Press, 2014—national winner) and When She’s
Asked to Think of Colors (Palettes & Quills Press, 2009—national winner). Former
director of the national Feminist Women’s Writing Workshops, Inc., she edited Adrienne
Rich: A Tribute Anthology (Split Oak Press, 2012).