by Sarah McKinstry-Brown

(For my daughter)

 Genetic factors appear to play a significant role in alcoholism and may account for about half of the total risk for alcoholism.-The New York Times, July 9, 2011


You are an heiress to drunks.

The statues of your forefathers stagger,

memorialized by gravity, their faces

eternally half-lit, as they reach into refrigerators

for another something

to keep away the cold empty.

I am sorry for the stories

unfolding in your blood, especially

the ones that could end with you, 16

18, 20, 40, stranded

in your body, looking for messages

in bottles of Heineken, Pabst, Blue Moon,

or Jack Daniels. By the time


I figured out that whiskey made me angry,

I was overseas, away,

kicking my fallen best friend in the ribs,

pleading in the dark, screaming street,

Why can't you just be a man? That was my first

real lesson in addition and subtraction.

I vowed afterward


to only drink the clear stuff, to stay

away from anything amber—no more bourbon, rum,

marigolds, Wurlitzers, Monarch butterflies, Raymond Carver.

No more sunrises, or sunsets, no more Tom Waits or slow burning

fires. No more long walks in November. Sorrow


is when you're afraid to love anything that glows,

is when you believe that any kindness is a sniff

of raw meat, a dab of honey baiting

the trap. Before your father was your father,

he came to my front door with flowers, and my heart sank,

I sneered, What do you want from me? that fragrance,

an anchor, dropping me right back


into my mother's kitchen

her eyes fixed on the vase stuffed with lilies, a plea

for her to keep quiet about last night, last week,

and all the ones before it.  Mom's taste

in men, her love for all things broken

taught me metaphor. Around our house,

poems wrote themselves


Love is a busted dead bolt on the front door.


is the next morning, those same hands shaking

as he mends the broken chain on your blue bicycle.


Or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe

regret is the busted dead bolt, and it's love,

that's the shaking hands. I can never seem to keep it

straight. And this is why, Daughter,


I am writing to you from all these years away,

to tell you I am glad I learned to take flowers

from your dad, that no gesture

is empty, and that, while my father waltzed with his guilt

and my mother, her fear, the two of them

spinning and spinning,


I held my breath, a bright penny,

tight in my fist, my hands at my side,

which is why, sweet daughter, now

that I've arrived decades later, with my life still

intact, I am giving you