When they pulled him from the Grand half-
drowned, we thought he was safe.
He ate boiled cabbage and potatoes.
He worked in the barn.
But the river broke my brother’s heart.
Only a week later, he fell in the kitchen.
His hands clawed my arms.
We couldn’t find Ma. This time,
my sister Martha and I watched Joe drown.
My feet walked out
on this ledge. For weeks
I could not wash the grave-dirt
from my clothes. And I wonder, still,
why his cheeks were pink in the coffin,
if he woke up in the dark,
what he thought.
— Elisabeth Murawski
This poem originally appeared in the journal The Bridge, Summer-Fall, 1994.
Elisabeth Murawski is author of Zorba’s Daughter, which won the 2010 May Swenson Poetry Award, Moon and Mercury, and two chapbooks. Murawski was a Hawthornden Fellow in 2008. Publications include The Yale Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, et al. A native of Chicago, she has lived in the Washington DC area for too many years to tell. She was awarded a BA from DePaul University, and has an MFA from George Mason University. She worked for the US Census Bureau as a training specialist until she retired in 2005.