“Another City” by Steven Coughlin

Steven Coughlin


In the other ending of my brother’s life
there will not be abandoned train tracks, his shoulders
fitted as if in a casket between the rails.

The city my brother lived in for eight months—
its sidewalks of trash and second-hand stores—
will no longer be the place where, at twenty-one,
he wandered beyond street lamps for a dime bag of dope
only to be murdered by the purple force of a tire iron.

In another city waits the arthritis which will haunt
my brother’s knees at sixty. It’s a cold city
where wind travels hard through the streets
and his lungs struggle from nicotine ache.

Above a twenty-four-hour dry cleaner
is a small apartment where my brother, pepper-grey
moustache, watches television, his cigarette smoke
with each slow year paints the ceiling yellow.

Evening after evening he wanders this city—
past a parking lot half-filled with rusted cars,
a motel whose few tenants shoot heroin behind
locked doors. Here it is always December, my brother
one of several grim men walking the sidewalk.

And because he has no money and the drunks
at the bar seldom remember his name, my brother,
lost in a storm of thoughts, dials my house
at a blurry hour on one of those curbside payphones
that has survived well beyond its real end.

Tired, I will not consider how good it is
to hear his voice—that he wants to joke
about the Red Sox last-place finish,
his fingers grasping the metal cord tight,
but will only feel bothered, pulled once again
from my welcomed sleep
by the burden of his needs.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011

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