Part Timer Work
My uncle is an alcoholic because one does not stop
being an alcoholic when one stops drinking.
He has two boys and they are twins
in the way two boys born 18 months apart are twins.
The oldest boy joins the army and comes back
a different sort of man. His twin does not leave
nor does he sway in the face of any horror
until the industrial accident, after which
my mother tells me he has stopped talking to anyone
in the family. Every day his mother visits him
in the hospital and every day he ignores her.
No one can imagine her sadness, though we do all try,
It just doesn’t make sense, my mother pleads.
He wasn’t the one who needed discipline to shed
his father’s work, no, it is the older brother, still,
who goes job to job.
As a boy my older brother didn’t sleep.
One night he was sure his hands would explode. No matter.
I slept in the next room and watched.
Now in the next room, my mother
waits until the voices rise in anger or joy around the dinner table,
then disappears into the kitchen to prepare what comes next.
The wear of the work done onto her
evident in all of her strengths.
Weeds hang over the brick
of my front yard garden.
The water-soaked tomatoes
thicken green and burst red.
I’m no good at tending to living things.
Some of them, in my care,
are left for years: my mother
in a small room on a chair
quietly tapping at a computer game.
What is left, after the animals leave,
rots in the grass.
Our First Dog
We get a dog and she is perfect.
For instance whereas other people
might complain about their dog’s begging
while they eat, when we eat our dog
runs to the other room, never wanting
to be a burden. For a while we take her
for walks on the leash but eventually
she learns the trick of not going in the road,
or off path, and we let her out to wander
on her own into and out of the back yards
of our neighbors, who now know her
and know she is good, and though they’re
accustomed to violence they just smile
as she passes, commenting to each other
what a good dog. She likes to chase rabbits,
but she’s never caught one. She likes fish
but she’s never even seen a stream.
It’s a funny thing having neighbors,
having a home with a front door
that doesn’t shut quick enough to hold everything in.
Having something to hold in is odd too, isn’t it?
Mom says the dog is for when we can’t remember
anything about us is lovable. I teach her
to crawl into bed with me and eventually
she’s only comfortable with her body against mine,
her head poking out from under the quilt.
It has gotten so when the sun sets she curls
at the foot of the bed waiting for me.
Steven Kleinman reads “Part Timer Work”
Steven Kleinman reads “Family Portrait”
Steven Kleinman reads “Our First Dog”
Steven Kleinman is the author of Life Cycle of a Bear, winner of the 2019 Philip Levine Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, Gettysburg Review, Oversound, Copper Nickel and elsewhere. He is the faculty coordinator of the Art Alliance Writers’ Workshop at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and he is a contributing editor at the American Poetry Review.