A Glass of Milk

I sip it slow in front of the double sink.

(Don’t drink the milk, my mother
used to say—it was reserved
for the cereal.)

My father asks me do you need anything?
I’ve been wearing sneakers
all winter, but a pair of boots is not need,
like I needed not more than one
slice of ham to make a sandwich, the cheap meat
covered by one slice of off-brand
American cheese. Like how a butter knife
scraping a translucent layer
of cream cheese on a burnt bagel was enough.

What was need when the reek
of fish and seasoned meats
on my clothes was proof of what mother’s
hands could make, when I could still
curl under the table
in front of the vent to feel the brief
blow of warm, hear the house sing
a deep rumble just before.

Now at my apartment
I avoid the vents, feel like the comfortable
temperature is waste, drink smoothies
made with lactose-free milk—the kind
we thought was for hipsters, rich
white folks. Is it boujee to want
your stomach not upset? To account
for the body’s failings? To want?

What need was there for milk
when the tap worked fine
at both parents’ places? When we
have gotten by without, what
does it mean to have? A glass
of milk poured into a purchased
glass. A painting

on the apartment wall—depiction
of birds and flowers in a winter
before the birds and flowers are back.

Some days I have needed
to take a knife
and use it to open my own flesh, watch
the blood bubble up, skin
dry from the winter and
too many baths because I now
have money for the water bill.
Have enough to buy as many
cartons of milk as I want. As
I want. And if not
that, then still I have this filtered water,
this running blood.

Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and is the author of the poetry chapbook Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020). A graduate of University of Michigan’s MFA in poetry, his work has found homes through Indiana Review, The Rumpus, Waxwing, and Kenyon Review Online, among others. You can find him online at marlinmjenkins.com.

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