Three Poems by Harrison Bae Wein

My Aunt When She Drank Scotch

Whenever my aunt babysat for us
intending to stay the night
carrying her canvas tote,
wearing white leather tennis shoes,

I would wake to her sobbing
and sneak into the guest room
where she sat on the hideaway bed,
wearing her blue men’s pajamas,

nursing a scotch, both hands
wrapped around the glass.
What was wrong, I didn’t know
until one night she told me

that she once loved someone
who wasn’t a Jew
but my grandmother drove him away,
and after that, she lived like a widow

with no one to talk to over meals,
no one to sleep beside
no one to help her pick out bath towels
or have children with.

I heard the ice tinkle
as she sipped, eyelids shut,
and to this day I’ve found
comfort in scotch,

its caramel scent and honey glow;
I didn’t know then
how it burned your throat,
that it wasn’t like candies and sweets.


Memory of My Grandfather

Grandma divided the bed
whenever I slept over
with a wooden board,
saying she didn’t want me
catching his cancer,

but aside from that,
all I can recall
is that small apartment kitchen,

how he shuffled past
the old gas oven
you had to light with a match
in his collared striped pajamas
to sit at the dining table

and drink his
from a small juice glass
to ease his stomach
after the chemo,
the chalky pink sludge
leaving a foam line
on his lip,

and then how I wailed
when I learned
they’d had his funeral
without telling me—

although to this day
I don’t know
what it was
I thought I’d missed.


My Mother Loses Me at the Department Store

I am stranded on an island
of a mannequin stand, sitting and
peering up at the pale plastic skin,
her dress the color of canaries,

a man in an armchair winks
as if we’re in a secret club, but I
focus on the women meandering,
rummaging for bargains,

mother nowhere in sight,
muzac drifting through the air
as cash registers open and close,
sounding like distant thunder.

They disappear behind racks
of packed rayon and wool,
scarves drooping from steel saplings,
hats perched like hawks,

and I wonder what would happen
if they turn off the lights,
and lock all the doors, with me still inside—
who will ever find me

when I spot her emerging
from a dressing room,
smiling and
wearing a new dress,
the tags already removed.


Harrison Bae Wein’s fiction and poetry has appeared in several literary journals. His series of laboratory stories, Blinded by Science, was the first fiction published at He has also been a finalist in the Glimmer Train Family Matters short story contest. Harrison has won several awards as a health and science writer, and his work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and many other outlets. He founded and now edits two health publications at the National Institutes of Health. You can find him online at

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