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The Lesson

After the saw’s incision
along the board’s grain,
my brother lifts the wood
to assess my handiwork, nodding
careful approval. Now he has me
set the glue, clamp the board
to another board. I will cut again,
clamp again, build a pattern
of dark into light into dark.
This useful board
will turn out smoother
where I sand and oil, a sheen
begins to glow out of the wood.
Not just a surface
on which I’ll chop onions,
carrots or cabbage. I trace the grain back
to my childhood eye where my brother
caresses me with blows, forcing my face
down into the floorboards.
Now, in his workshop,
he rests a hand gently
on my shoulder, welcomes
me into the life he’s built.
The long years barely speaking,
his fugitive, paranoid calls
from different cities, all of it
smoothed into the wood.
The wood has smoothed him too,
my eldest brother, no longer
the drop-out, the should-have-been.
In this room he has learned
the science of his hands.
Joined with his materials,
he teaches, he is taught.

Isaac Ginsberg Miller‘s chapbook Stopgap (forthcoming, 2019) won The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Chapbook Contest. He is a PhD student in African American Studies at Northwestern University. isaacginsbergmiller.com