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Contributor: Michael H. Brownstein

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Morning, dishes in the sink,
crud on the stove, garbage
needs to be taken out,
my wife who went to bed late
still asleep, my daughter
who went to bed early snoring
soft air pockets of breath,
my son gathering his work
for another day in the lab.
The dogs need to be walked
and the paper trained puppies
have done what they are to do.
The air is breathable, sky blue,
crisp and cool, a slight
curve of breeze, almost
noticeable. My mother in a comma
five hundred miles away, the MRI
not studied yet, her hands
able to squeeze my sister's finger
reflexively, my mother breathing
on her own, the stroke to her
right side overpowering. Listen
to the chatter of the house wrens
entering their home through
breaks in the old siding.
In the distance, a barn owl.
Outside the dog owners begin
congregating in the parking lot
behind our old house, their dogs
silent as if they too know
the condition of my mother.
I plan to catch the next available
train and I'll try to get there
soon, the sun growing in color,
not a cloud in sight, the mulberry
tree allowing the squirrels, possums,
and robins a place to eat.
No one is talking. The dogs
do not bark. I can see the design
of vine rising over the neighbor's
fence, the hole beneath it
his dogs dug to escape, the break
where the children opened the wood
to retrieve overthrown balls.
My mother breathes in and out
as is our habit, her chest rising
and falling, her eyes closed,
she has nothing to say. My sisters
who live within driving distance
are with her, talking over her bed,
their cell phones in their hands.
When I finally take the dogs out,
I find other dogs blocking my usual
way, and I turn--one of my dogs
a fighter--and find another path.
They pull me this way and that
as is their habit and in a place
of weeds, linger over something.
I go to see what they are busy
studying. A dead something--too long
dead to be recognized, I tug at them
gently as is my habit, speak to them,
and begin my walk uphill back home.

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Michael H. Brownstein is the author of Firestorm: A Rendering of Torah (Camel Saloon Press, 2012), and The Katy Trail, Mid-Missouri, 100F Outside And Other Poems (Kind of Hurricane Press, 2013) among others. He is the editor of First Poems from Viet Nam (2011) and head administrator of Project Agent Orange (


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