My Brother in the VFW
by Elizabeth Barbato

My left thumb is calloused
from grading essays.  I’d like to say
it was from writing in general, but
to be honest it’s just from criticism.  
It’s almost five and dark already.
Two years ago I would have been gritted, just
waiting for the first drink’s calm lick

down my spine, my gullet.
Instead I call my brother, who
leaves his cell phone to cry
at home, back in his apartment
crammed like a mouth full of sand
with dusty guns, small lead soldiers,

and books piled to the door
under a bust of Alexander.
He just wants to go
to a room with no windows.
There’s a reason why bars
have stools, not benches: personal orbits.
I see the future in red vinyl

and foggy mirrors ringed by Christmas lights
kept up all year long.  I hear the puff
of air as the door opens, and the smell
that calls itself escape but is really despair.  
As a child my brother could get out of anything—
cribs, punishments, eating his peas, violin lessons—
but he can’t get out of this.  He will never get out of this.


Born in New England but transplanted successfully to New Jersey,
Elizabeth Barbato has been a teacher of English for fourteen years.  
She has taught kindergarten through twelfth grade, and has spent
recent summers completing her doctoral degree, traveling in the
highlands of Scotland researching
Macbeth, and in Vermont fishing
and working on her book.  This summer she will travel to the
Galapagos to investigate Darwin and Vonnegut.  This is Barbato’s
third submission and her first acceptance of a poem for a magazine
since she was in college.  

On “My Brother in the VFW”:
I have a healthy fear of the invisible onset of alcoholism, as that
disease runs in my extended family.  The persona I have
adopted in this poem shares that fear, as well as a fear for his or
her sibling, who spends an inordinate amount of time reminiscing
at the local watering hole.  Though I do have a sibling who
proudly served our country and returned home safely, this poem
is not about him.  I wrote it in honor of all veterans, but
especially for those with PTSD.  I am painfully aware of the
growing number of soldiers returning from Iraq who are
damaged psychologically—those whose wounds are invisible.  

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 3, Number 1
(Spring 2008)

Copyright © 2008
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.