The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Eileen Murphy

Homework

 

The numbers swam like drunken tadpoles
as Baby Brother sat while Dad supervised
and worked crosswords. They faced the kitchen
with its yellow and black flowered wallpaper
where Mom had hung a poster of a Native American
woman in braids and beads in front of the Earth:
There can be no free men until there are free women.

Today they’d sent home a letter:
Baby Brother had dyslexia, why he was flunking
all his classes. Mother said she was going to sue the school.
Something like this on his record could hurt Baby’s chances
for getting into the right college.
Dad said he didn’t believe in dyslexia.

Baby got a migraine. The fluorescent lights of the kitchen.
The air conditioning sandpapering his skin.
Twinkling in the periphery of his vision.
Pain struck his right eye with an ice pick.
He groaned, put his hand to his eyes. Dad,
I have a headache, may I be excused?

His father threw down the crosswords.
Take some aspirin. And keep working.
Baby Brother was bent over, head in both hands, eyes
closed, whimpering. Dad slammed his fist on the counter.
You’re not finished, buddy boy. Baby. He got up
and took out a bottle from the cupboard. You’re
lazy and spoiled. No son of mine.


Grabbing the aspirin and setting his jaw to hold
back tears, Baby lurched into the master bathroom,
punched the door lock. He set the aspirin on the counter,
sat down on the closed toilet with his head in his hands.

Mom had prescription painkillers in the glass cabinet.
Second Brother got in a lot of trouble
when Dad found out he was stealing Mom’s pills.
But Mom was so busy at law school, she wouldn’t notice.
The label said to take one or two. He hesitated,
knowing he was about to do wrong, then shook
three capsules into his hand, held his mouth
under the tap. He went to sleep in his bed that night
clutching his stuffed childhood Garfield the Cat.

 

 

 

EILEEN MURPHY, a former Chicagolander, lives near Tampa and teaches literature/English at Polk State College. She has recently published poetry in THE FEM (forthcoming), Silver Birch Press’s MOVE Series (forthcoming), Tinderbox (forthcoming), Pittsburgh Poetry Houses, Uppagus, Right Hand Pointing, The Thought Erotic, Rogue Agent, and other journals.

 

 

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