slouched in his doctor’s coat not white anymore and frayed at the cuffs always with tea steeping a few loose cigarettes on his desk late one night he came to see Mother finally it was time for Little Brother to come but he never arrived he missed his train Father said squeezing my shoulder not looking at me dear Doctor Saltzman your pocket watch ticked like a bomb your head a speckled egg the soldiers laughed and cracked open.
Doctor Saltzman’s Black Bag
sat stiffly on our table mouth open wide a stethoscope I remember curled inside its silver fish eye always cold against my chest I am very sorry he kept his pale hands busy tidying I didn’t realize who he was speaking to but there was only me I remember I felt far away felt like someone else I wished I was my brother lost before he’d arrived how early he said the trees have turned he closed his case I closed my eyes listening hard as if I might hear each blood-red leaf break upon our roof.
Thin silvery fish carried home from the river six or seven on a brown string dashes of bright yellow chalk the tailor marked my sleeves my cuffs Mother changed each day like the weather sun thunder gathering clouds papers burning in the fireplace Father fed them into the fire the doorframe splintered a soldier kicked down the door * gray helmets rising past our feet muddy boots thumping up the stairs drawers yanked emptied out glass-glitter on the window sill a book flapped down torn pink nightgown snagged in a tree there was nothing there was nothing left alone a scream someone screaming I realized it was me * Mother’s brown shoe brimmed with rain the back wall rubbled bricks a soldier smoked and laughed empty cigarette case cracked white vase Grandmother’s portrait kicked in the scratched black piano hunched over its broken leg but still Tuesday still morning but no birds sang * a handful of blackberries in a pale blue bowl we could leave tonight or tomorrow Father said right now or never a gleaming spoon last dollop of sweet cream there was no time there was nothing but time light fell through the leaves like broken glass.
MATTHEW THORBURN’S new book of poems, String, will be published by Louisiana State University Press in 2023. He’s also the author of five previous books, including The Grace of Distance, a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, and Dear Almost, which received the Lascaux Prize. He lives in New Jersey.
Artwork by Ko Smith.
© The Glacier 2022. All rights reserved.