Posts Tagged ‘brother’

I Will Always Remember

And when I could not stand—
when the weight of life
was more than I could hold alone—
my brother held me in his big arms
and said in my ear, I’ve got you.
Though grief expanded
and increased inside me
like a terrible mutinous bloom,
I’ve got you, he said.
Though it swelled and threatened
to swamp us, he wrapped me
in a tenderness equally vast.
I’ve got you, he said, as I wept.
I’ve got you, he said, infusing me
with a love so robust I knew
I could fall into even the deepest sorrow
and still he would catch me,
would catch me, would hold me,
would hold me as long as he had arms. 
When I was most afraid to be alone,
I was not alone. I’ve got you, he said,
and I fell and I fell, the world a dark rush,
and he caught me, my brother,
and held me as all around us
what I thought I knew of the world
slipped away, slipped further away.

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Perhaps three years ago
my son gave me three paper slips,
each one an IOU with his name and phone number
and the promise to do whatever I asked him to do.

I saved the slips in my bathroom drawer
where they mingled with hair ties
and toothpaste tubes,
until a month ago, when I wrote on one
in small blue cursive,
Please send a sign to your sister you love her.

And today, two months after his death,
a single postcard came, addressed to my daughter,
a postcard sent from Minnesota
but written in his hand.

It doesn’t say I love you. It’s a photo
of an old marketplace in Cusco,
a city he visited one week before he died.
He tells her about it, says it’s a place he enjoys.

And there, on the four-by-six cardstock,
unfurling between his handwritten words
is the unsaid message she seldom heard—

You’re important to me.
I love you. I miss you.
I’m grateful you’re in my life.

Consider this poem a thank you letter
addressed to what I can’t understand.
Thank you for finding a way to say
the words that couldn’t be said.
Thank you for letting an absence
tell a larger story. Thank you
for unusual postage.
For wonder. For special delivery.

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Over thirty years later

I still return to the night

when my brother and I

stood in the kitchen and argued

the merits of Grape Nuts,

versus Cap’n Crunch.

Potassium, potassium, potassium.

I still hear him chanting

the one nutrient his cereal

had more of than mine.

Breakfast was the least

of our differences,

but it taught us to laugh

as we disagreed

so that later, when the stakes

were higher—

presidential elections

and gun laws—

we could argue till I cried,

then snuggle on the couch.

Though we seldom agree,

though we will forever cancel each other’s votes,

though I will never eat Cap’n Crunch,

I’ll sit with him as he eats it,

laughing, shaking my head,

grateful he teaches me so much

about how I am not.

He will celebrate me and buy me

any damn cereal I want.

Though we disagree about almost everything

except how much we love each other—

we are two threads in a civilization

that would try to makes us believe

we couldn’t be one cloth—

but we are, woven tight, we are.

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We ride on the rusty old bikes

in the swelter of June,

legs pumping, waving at strangers,

the wind making a kite

of our laughter—


The eight-year-old version of me

would never believe

about how happy we are—

she’s still ratting her brother out

to the recess guard.


But here we are, like two

young kids, playing in summer—

sticky hands and suntanned arms,

the years an ocean,

our love a boat.





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And again tonight, despite injustice and hatred,

Jean Valjean learns to love. And again tonight,

in the face of fear and prejudice, he finds kindness.

And again tonight, I weep as he nears his death.

I couldn’t say for whom I am weeping—for him,

for the girl he adopted, for the mother who died,

for the empty chairs, for the whole cast

who remind me too much of the world we live in.

For myself, of course, and my longing to do

what is right. But more than anything, I weep

with the memory of watching this very same scene

thirty years ago, sitting beside my brother,

both of us baptized in tears as Fontine and Eponine

sing behind Valjean, reminding him it is no small miracle

to love someone. I couldn’t have known then

how this would be the memory I’d return to again

and again when I think of my brother. There we are,

young and full of competing ideals, holding each other,

laughing through our crying, ready to meet the world

and each other tear-stained and open to news of grace.


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Forty years later, my brother and I

go to the Jewel to buy evaporated milk

and egg nog, and part of me doubts

I will remember the way that we scoured

the produce aisle for green beans. Then again,

who could say why I remember

with incredible clarity the moments

when I was ten and we had just finished

the great turkey feast and my brother and I,

as we loved to do, asked to be excused,

but instead of leaving the dining room,

we simply lay on the floor beneath the table

with our feet up on our chairs

and conversed with each other

there across the green and white shag.

I don’t recall what we said or what we wore,

and it was no important moment, but

I remember the feel of it:

I knew we were together in this—

this moment, this family, this life,

so much so that forty years later

the memory of these ten minutes

is as real to me as the scent of the pumpkin pie

my sister-in-law baked tonight.

How is it that such a short snippet of time

defines us? How it comes to be

the moment we return to again and again

to remind ourselves who we are,

who we love, and why we are here—

those moments, stolen, and still

they give us back ourselves. Even now

in the produce aisle of Jewel, I can feel it—

the carpet against my cheek, can smell

the cranberry salad, can hear my grandfather

and grandmother laughing over our heads,

my brother’s eyes widening, mischievous, so alive.

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And after the boy

hugs his sister

and tells her

she did a great job,


after he wipes

her tears and holds

her and wraps her

in his awkward arms,


after she leans

into him, their

sapling trunks

sloping toward


each other,

I want to tell him

how proud I am

of the ways


he is growing,

want to affirm

how much depends

on love, want


to say I see his tenderness,

but the soil beneath

them is unstable,

precious, and my voice


is full of heavy clouds,

so I wait until

they sway apart,

then I walk closer


and manage to say

through invisible rain,

It’s time.

Let’s go home.

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There was a time when I’d pull his hair out

if he sat too close to me on the couch.

Now, I curl into his right side,

lean my head on his shoulder,

feel the trembling of his chest

as he weeps. How good it feels

to be close to him as we grieve.

How familiar, the shape of his head,

the heft of his hand as he reaches for mine.

How deeply right, this leaning

into sorrow together.

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that Sunday afternoon in Madison

when we went to brunch, then found our seats

in the theater where the French Revolution

is waging again and a man falls in love

and the woman dies and her daughter is horribly

enslaved, and my brother, a bear of a man,

the heavyweight champion wrestler who

routinely pinned behemoths to their backs

and threw keggers to “make me clean

the floors,” my brother beside me

cried enough tears for the whole globe,

a lightning rod for sorrow, as if his heart

were big enough to take on the burdens

of the whole world, how I loved him then,

his face radiant and glistening,

both of us weeping near to heaving

and holding each other’s hands, smiling
at each other in the dim light, both of us

seeing ourselves as the other as the players

built a barricade and all our walls fell down.

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Easter Magic




There were years

when the Easter Bunny

set out a wrench and a flashlight

beside the baskets—remember,

brother, the pleasure we took

in the hiding and finding

long after the years of believing

in magic were over?

Eggs we floated in plastic bags

in the backs of the toilet.

Eggs duct taped to the inside

of the chimney flue. Eggs

in the vents, inside the piano,

we delighted in what a bit of invention

could do. Tonight I walked out

of the house after dinner

to take the recycling up to the road,

and there, to the west, an outpouring

of light made me stop and stare

and inwardly, sweetly erode.

In a world so bent, I sometimes forget

that the magic is always

inside us. We have all the tools

that we need. All we need to do

is keep trying to find it.




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