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BloodLines: "The Cold/Family of Origin" by Julie Bruck

We’ve partnered with the Canada Council for the Arts to present a new literary series: BloodLines. Inspired by this year’s Massey Lectures by Lawrence Hill, Blood: The Stuff of Life, BloodLines features new fiction, nonfiction and poetry inspired by the theme of blood—written by ten Canadian writers who have won or been nominated for Governor General’s Literary Awards.

In Julie Bruck’s two BloodLines poems, family roots are tenacious, quarrelsome, and crazy about pinochle.

* * *

The Cold 
The cold that finally killed my father lives  
in me now, despite seven months—no, eight—
of steroid sprays, antibiotics, antibacterials,
and whatever else modern medicine has
thrown at it. When he died, I was at 30,000 feet,  
flying east, and by the time I arrived, a van 
had already taken the body, leaving my brothers, 
his second wife, and her daughter huddled 
in the house with his aftermath, his little 
black dog, and the cold. I was three hours 
late—and years too late to mend the divisions  
left between us. After a day, the dog stopped 
searching for my father, so I ceased trying 
to distract her, and nurtured his cold instead. 
I've had X-rays and blood tests, now there's 
talk of a CAT scan. Perhaps my body loved 
its father better than I did in this life, wants 
to make amends for harboring a divided heart. 
Perhaps we could have duked it out earlier—
two figures on a shaky trestle bridge.
But the last thing I wanted was to imperil
a 98-year-old I'd have had to tackle to 
protect, what with each of us dragging our 
own convictions, heavy as wet cement.  Now,
my primary care doctor is losing interest, 
and I am so done with this left lung, 
that won't let me sleep or bend to pick up 
the morning paper without feeling stabbed,
then brought to my knees. I barely cried 
when I got there too late, could only offer 
my arms to the others who'd seen him through, 
a lap to the shaken dog, and a chest for his cold.
Unless, that is, he's sticking around for his own 
purposes, making sure I mourn him right.
In which case I'd say, it's okay, you can 
go now, frail old father with so much fight. 
I won’t forget you. How it sears
every time I try to breathe you out.


Family of Origin

Actually, since we carry his peoples' long spines, 
bear with age their jutting lower jaws, why not
cleave our mother's side (depression's
drooping left eye) to our father's bulldog 
element (judgments about dead cousins, that
fiery certainty).  Oh, he could be unforgiving!
Gone now, with his line of opinionators in felt 
hats and fine shoes, who measured disputes 
in lifetimes: bedridden, almost a hundred, he
jawed on about a stolen painting, absolutely  
knew who took it, the guy's a scoundrel,
let me tell you something—And what now,  
my aging brothers (one gentle, one guarded),   
no more grudges or feuds, no tantrums in  
our telomeres? Trumped, the divisive gene, that
passionate protein for marathon spleen?  Let's
quarrel, let's fire up the ingrained shtetl
reflex from Lodz or Long Island, the tally pads of 
scrappers who made chasms of card games or cash,  
took them to the grave, stubborn as muscle and equally  
unyielding, their sheer conviction a kind of  
vaccine against inwardness, and since we miss his dismissive
wattage right now, let's mine this mah-vel-us  
excitation, this genius for bicker in the bone—fuse his
yang to her yin, and summon those players encrypted at Mount
Zion, still pitching a hissy fit over pinochle.


Julie Bruck by Kara Schleunes.JPG
A Montreal native, Julie Bruck has lived in San Francisco since 1997. She has published three collections with Brick Books, Monkey Ranch (2012), The End of Travel (1999), and The Woman Downstairs (1993). Monkey Ranch won the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry in 2012. Her poems have appeared in many Canadian and U.S. magazines, including The New Yorker, Maisonneuve, The Walrus, Ploughshares, The Malahat Review and Ms, and she's had fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Canada Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Since 2005, Julie has taught workshops at The Writing Salon in San Francisco's Mission district, and tutored students at the University of San Francisco.

Photo credit: Kara Schleunes

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"A Special Occasion" by Drew Hayden Taylor
Alexis Zentner
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Julie Bruck
"The Cold/Family of Origin" by Julie Bruck
JJ Lee
"Shadows" by JJ Lee

Kerri Sakamoto
"The Mongolian Spot" by Kerri Sakamoto

Phil Hall
"Artery" by Phil Hall

Elizabeth Abbott
"Coming of Age in August" by Elizabeth Abbott
Linda Spalding
"Dust" by Linda Spalding

Afua Cooper
"Black Blood" by Afua Cooper


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