One summer
he came back
to my mother’s mother’s
house, missing a finger.

He and my grandmother
drank Old Crow for hours,
swiveled in the torn white
vinyl seats in her kitchen,
forearms draping the edge
of her glass-topped table.

I’d asked what happened,
eyeing the empty near his pinkie.
He said while sleep on the tracks
a transit train ran over this hand.
He was able to pull back—mostly—
all except for the ring finger,
which sat under a rail in Metuchen.

My grandmother inched in, offered:
So what, Sonny, you holdin’
whiskey like a man ain’t
lost a damn thing.
He laughed like royalty
at court, head thrown back.
Turned toward me to change
subject, asked if I had a bike.

Said he saw some kids
on Stuyvesant ridingbadass
10-speed name brands.
I declined. He warned best to
want than refuse what’s free.
Told me to expect one,
like other kids, on Christmas.

His eyes seemed clouded, though.
Squinty. He kept blotting his fore-
head with a torn paper towel.
The hand with one finger gone
missing—kept scratching, tugging
at his face, his arms, his legs--
where my grandmother’s cat,
Camelot, rubbed against
my father’s hems revealing
a pair of mismatched socks:
one white with his blood
seeping through the ankle
the other, brown & unclean.


Copyright © 2014 by Airea D. Matthews. Originally published in The Indiana Review Vol. 36, Issue 1, 2014. Used with the permission of the poet.