Brain Tonic by Luke Stromberg

Brain Tonic
        for John Foy

Like my grandmother before me, I like to drink
A refreshing can of Coca Cola for breakfast
It’s part of my arrested development.
Sadly, I never developed a taste for coffee,
A classic marker of maturity,
Like when a girl gets her first training bra.
I do enjoy the occasional hot tea
(With too much sugar and milk), but I prefer
To keep it low class. Don’t misunderstand—
It’s not a political gesture, just my “truth.”
I find the initial sip of carbonated
Sweetness akin to the lost ritual
Of that first frosty-morning drag from a Camel,
Both pleasures sneered at by the professional class.
My uncle once compared smokers to Jews
In Nazi Germany! The comparison
Was, as the kids would say, “problematic,”
But health can be a form of tyranny,
I guess…What was I talking about again?

Ah, yes! Healthful, delicious Coca Cola!
“The Intellectual Drink,” “The Ideal Brain Tonic,”
Said to relieve exhaustion and calm the nerves,
To satisfy the thirsty and help the weary.
Like Trump, I drink several cans a day
And sometimes feel powerless with rage.
I’m sorry (sort of) for these affinities
But overwhelmed by social change and struggling
To gain purchase, I’ve turned to Coca Cola.
On an airplane one time, a woman asked
If I could try to be less animated.
I was relating a story to a friend,
You see, and am excitable by nature.
…Ah, I am exhausted, so exhausted…
Beat down by politics, divorce, and failure,
The past few months have been a son-of-a-bitch.
I’d like the world to buy me a Coke, for once,
And keep me company. It’s the real thing
That I want today, the real thing, the real thing.

*

Luke Stromberg’s poetry and criticism have appeared in Smartish Pace, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Golidad Review, Think Journal, The Raintown Review, The Dark Horse, Cassandra Voices, and several other venues. He also serves as the Associate Poetry Editor of E-Verse Radio. Luke works as an adjunct professor at Eastern University and La Salle University and lives in Upper Darby, PA.

Two Poems by Linda Lerner

About Whales and Breathing

I’m thinking of whales
who sleep using only one side of
their brains, the other half stays awake
to make sure they’re still breathing;
thinking of how it used to be
before breathing had become routine
before it stopped, and someone
nudged me awake, how everything
I’d do, like making coffee in the morning
once was like breathing, I’d feel
every breath, could taste and see it,
I didn’t need someone else
to remind me, when breathing wasn’t
just pushing out one gray day
to let another in; I’m thinking

of people struggling to let out
each breath, tied up to ventilators
for months, not making it, and
thankful to be breathing at all;
I’m thinking of whales this Thanksgiving
how they breathe, and what
it takes to be alive every minute

*

Not Them Again

I wasn’t thinking of Eve
mythed from Adam’s rib when
I broke off the last part of my cat’s name,
Samsara, to create hers, six weeks
after he was gone on his 17th birthday,
a few days before my estranged brother also left…
did it to get Samsara back,
sister to a brother she never met
brings back my own brother
but this poem is not about him

Sara, would have none of it.
No lap sitting cat, would not let me
force her into his image, led only
by her instinctive nature
I watch her breathe new life
into this name, to own it absolutely

and see a long line of women
shadowing her, my own struggle against
a favored male sibling I resented…
that ongoing fight for women
to be who we are, a fight
for not against who we’re not

*

Linda Lerner is the author of 17 collections, including Takes Guts and Years Sometimes & Yes, the Ducks Were Real from NYQ Books (2011 & 2015) and When Death is a Red Balloon, her most recent collection (Lummox Press, 2019) Her poems have appeared in Maintenant, Paterson Literary Review, Gargoyle, Chiron Review, Free State Review, and Rat’s Ass Review among others.