“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.”
—Jack London, “To Build a Fire”

The man who used to own the deli around the corner
hails me off the street like I’m an old war buddy,
insists I join him for shots
of vodka at the Philosopher’s Club.
Brad fans a stack of twenties
and bad blood on the counter—

a marriage he killed, his ex and kids living
in another city, ill parents in Kansas—
swipes fat tears as he asks after Daniel.
He’s in rehab, I tell him,
cost me a year’s worth of college
education to save him.

Your son loved Twizzlers, he says,
leaning closer, his breath stinging
my mucous membranes.
After the third downing in the bar’s
blue hue, when Brad’s face purples—
eyes a grate of embers, wild 

with what you could mistake
for madness—
the walls and night collapse around us,
everything falling away,
and we stand shivering
in the luminous desert of a hundred billion

galaxies, the moon’s silver bowl mirrored
on frost that fractures beneath
our feet. Nearby, a hushed circle of men
eat canned soup around a campfire.
Daniel rises in silence, points us
to a spot away from the group,

settling next to Brad with a thin branch
and a flat piece of wood—
spins the branch fast between
palms, muscles driving the tip down,
over and over, until heat builds
and the tuft of cinders finally catches.

Abby Caplin was a finalist for the 2018 Rash Award in Poetry, semi-finalist for the 2018 Willow Run Poetry Book Award, nominee for the 2018 Sundress Best of the Net Award, honorable mention for 2017 Quercus Fall Poetry Book Award, award recipient of the San Francisco Poets Eleven 2016, and finalist for the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award. Her poems have appeared in Alyss, apt, Catamaran, Love’s Executive Order, Mudlark Flash, Salt Hill, TSR: The Southampton Review, Third Wednesday, Tikkun, and others. She is a physician practicing Mind-Body medicine in San Francisco.