Five Poems by Harrison Bae Wein

Watching One America

Lying in his bed, slumped
against the wooden headboard
in his shabby underwear,
watching the newscasters warn
of an immigrant tide at the border,
the secret spying of the Squad,
and Hunter Biden’s corruption,
my father, once a doctor–a
critical thinker–sat mesmerized.

They convinced him
that COVID was a sham
cooked up by the Dems in
a plot against the president–
Mother, too, who haggled
over cuts of meat, brought
her fur coat in for cleaning,
met friends for book club.

Now, dead from
COVID, this photo
from the funeral home
is all I have of him,
looking as if he’s fallen
asleep on his new My Pillow,
watching his shows,
believing everything.


My Mother’s Anger

When I was a child,
I would lie in bed
with the door open
and listen to my mother
yelling down the hallway,
the bangs jolting me awake
as I squinted my eyes
to blur the kitchen light
into a white death ray,
or a tractor beam that
might carry me away.

I remember in Maine
at my father’s conference
when she told me
to wait outside the cafeteria
with my younger brother,
and we watched through
the plate-glass window
as she walked down the aisle
and dumped some Coke
on a stranger’s head

When I told her
I was getting married,
she shouted for the better part
of an hour–and as I tried
to leave, she hurled
a bottle of nail polish
at my head

I ducked, letting
it crack on the door
to leave a red slash
which no one
thought to clean, and
that darkened,
over time,
like a festering scab.


Last Words

Growing up,
our house was like a boxing ring,
parents in their corners,
me behind my mother,
brother with my dad.

Still, I spent Saturday
mornings in the back of his office
reading National Geographics
about faraway places
and wandering around
to hear patients praise him
in the waiting room.

When he was done
cleaning ears and
examining tonsils,
we’d walk down the avenue
to lunch on knishes
and corned beef sandwiches.

It’s hard to fathom how that cool,
confident flirt, smoking in his
consultation room as he
scanned the medical journals,
became a crooked, stooped
old man, cursing under
his breath at his wife.

When I last time saw him,
he reached for something–
maybe me, maybe a ghost–
and I took his hand.

His final words, in quarantine,
on the phone, were
“She’s killing me”
or “Help me,” but I can’t
recall which came first,
and which were his last.


Things To Think About When I Die

The placid jade water of China Cove.
The earthy scent of a redwood forest after a rain.
Coarse black sand scratching the arches of my feet.
The salty spray of a wave on my face.

Brandy on my tongue from the center of a chocolate.
Fresh, soft figs picked just that morning.
The blaring brass of Dvořák’s eighth.
Fragonard’s garden swings.

Early morning walks on Broadway, deserted but for us.
Driving your dad’s clunky blue wagon up I-95.
The curve of your hip when you lie on your side.
Planting trees together in the backyard.

Holding our newborn daughter for the first time.
Dancing our son to sleep on my chest.
Lying in a tent, unable to sleep, and
thinking, somehow, that I was unhappy.


About the Past

If I could patch
the rips in the canvas
with fabric and glue
to hide the bruises,
I might forget–
but pentimenti
always show through,
stubborn, insistent,
however many
coats you apply,
their pigments and
shapes can’t be hidden,
and flesh can’t be
scrubbed or rinsed enough
to erase old scars.


Harrison Bae Wein’s fiction and poetry has appeared in several literary journals, most recently in ONE ART and Clio’s Psyche, and forthcoming in riverSedge. 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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