Thursday, February 23, 2012

To My Big Brother

by Brendan Cavanagh

While Dad demonstrates for the rest of us
the black-and-blue beauty
of his favorite leather belt,
now gripped tightly by bone-white knuckles,
the one which normally holds up his corduroys
six days out of the week,
unless, of course, he uses it
to bind Mom to the rigid hardwood bed frame and to coerce her
into once again bearing the fruits of his Casanovian prowess;

Grandma sings hymns in the shower
to repent for missing Mass the last four Sundays
because she was too busy caring for Grandpa,
whose emaciated frame lies pale gray
on the living-room couch,
emitting wet, rattling coughs
between drags on an endless chain of cigarettes;

Our dog naps serenely underneath the porch
(I imagine he doesn’t enjoy cigarettes
as much as Grandpa does),
nursing the festering scab and flesh-colored band-aid
that now mark where once was the perpetually-wagging tail
that he succeeded in sinking his fangs into
after going mad from five days of nothing
but the lingering crumbs of an empty kibble bowl;

Our sister fucks a stranger
in the back of his gun-metal black Mercedes
so that she will at last have enough cash
to buy our littlest brother cough medicine
(he hasn’t slept or stopped crying in nights,
and his forehead is hotter than the makeshift fire
we huddle around feeding
with barrels of unpaid bills every night),
and she hopes to still have enough for a pint of whiskey
to get her through back-to-back shifts
at the diner on the other side of town
(hopefully she’ll overdo it again
like she did when she was a cashier at the mall,
and blackout so she can forget all of this);

Between twin candles flanked
by linen curtains in the front window
of the warm, brick house across the street I can see
smiling and satisfied faces encircling
a steaming turkey and not one, but two bottles of rich, red wine,
where the only unbuckled belts lie flaccid and tame
between the belt loops of pants fit to burst
clean off ever-expanding bellies,
and a dog chases his golden tail
in an oblivion of dead leaves
which the family raked laughing
just before their mother called them to dinner;

I’m writing this letter to you,
begging you to come back home so you can scare away
these monsters that won’t stay in the closet anymore.

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