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Two Poems by Katharyn Machan

by Katharyn Machan

My Brother

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.


Virgin Poem

If we lived in the South Sea long ago, 

brother, you might have been husband 

or lover, taking me in the flowered tent 

in ritual, at the festival. 

My friends would have brought me shells 

and coral, combed my fine brown hair 

back from my face, giggling 

to think of kisses there. To think 

of you, older brother, striding into the tent 

to find me there on the sweet soft cloth 

stretched upon the sand, my breasts 

years from blossom, my hips 

straight and narrow as a young palm. 

Oh, your manroot there. Your hands 

tender and gentle with knowledge 

taught you by the village fathers, 

tradition, protecting me from evil 

spirits that would gather to my hymen. 

You would hurt me, yes, but you 

would recognize my pain, acknowledge 

tears, go on loving me as clean 

little sister, and I would know 

the pain would end and leave me whole. 

How different, brother, in this northern land 

where you tore my flesh and left me broken, 

dirty secret, shameful sister 

knowing eight years into life 

love is a jagged island of ice 

where flowers never grow.


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