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Posts Tagged ‘sister’

United

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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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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In the empty kitchen I read

your letter out loud,

try to speak in your tones

as if I might trick my ears,

but there are too many waves

in my voice, I can hardly keep my head

above the water, they are deep

the tides between here and there.

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For Christmas, I want to buy you the softest green
shirt, green the color of Wisconsin in springtime,
so green we could almost fall into the color
and find ourselves running once more to the lake,
cane poles in hand, to see if the fish are biting.
Or we might find ourselves in the dark green woods
behind the neighbor’s house where we used to dig
in the old junk yard for shards of blue and white porcelain.

But green is my favorite color, not yours. And those days
of running down the great grassy hill are gone, are gone
and faded. You like blue. Forgive me, brother, for buying
you again for Christmas another green shirt. Oh hush,
can you hear them, the cicadas, trilling through the leaves
of the old willow tree, serenading the warm summer night?

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