My Uncle Drank Himself to Death

by Tanner Barnes


          and my father ate lemons every day until
the enamel on his incisors peeled.

          The two marble stones that stick out of
his gums are false, but he smiles,

          high as a kite, as his brother is buried.
He doesn’t help his siblings clean up

          the empty cans that lined the body.
Instead he pulls out the pocketknife

          he stole and cuts a lemon into fours.
He grabs a saltshaker. His mouth consumes a desert.


Tanner Barnes is a current MFA student at Florida State University. His work has previously appeared in the Rappahannock Review and the Oakland Arts Review. He doesn’t have a website, but he does have a twitter (@aint_no_cowboy), and he thinks you should follow him.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “My Uncle Drank Himself to Death”?

This poem came out of a few different drafts. I have a word doc on my computer titled “lemons” that is about 1500 words. The poem grew big and bulbous through two different versions. My loving girlfriend read both versions and said they were absolute trash. So, in 20 minutes I wrote this version. I guess you could say that this poem built from a lot of throat clearing. The poem is a very personal look at my family and how addiction, regardless of the substance, can rule one’s life.


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