How to Watch Your Brother Die
When the call comes, be calm.
Say to your wife, "My brother is dying. I have to fly
Try not to be too shocked that he already looks like
Say to the young man sitting by your brother's side,
"I'm his brother."
Try not to be shocked when the young man says,
"I'm his lover. Thanks for coming."
Listen to the doctor with a steel face on.
Sign the necessary forms.
Tell the doctor you will take care of everything.
Wonder why doctors are so remote.
Watch the lover's eyes as they stare into
your brother's eyes as they stare into
Wonder what they see there.
Remember the time he was jealous and
opened your eyebrow with a sharp stick.
Forgive him out loud
even if he can't
Realize the scar will be
all that's left of him.
Over coffee in the hospital cafeteria
say to the lover, "You're an extremely good-looking
Hear him say,
"I never thought I was good enough looking to
deserve your brother."
Watch the tears well up in his eyes. Say,
"I'm sorry. I don't know what it means to be
the lover of another man."
Hear him say,
"It's just like a wife, only the commitment is
deeper because the odds against you are so much
Say nothing, but
take his hand like a brother's.
Drive to Mexico for unproven drugs that might
help him live longer.
Explain what they are to the border guard.
Fill with rage when he informs you,
"You can't bring those across."
Begin to grow loud.
Feel the lover's hand on your arm
restraining you. See in the guard's eye
how much a man can hate another man.
Say to the lover, "How can you stand it?"
Hear him say, "You get used to it."
Think of one of your children getting used to
another man's hatred.
Call your wife on the telephone. Tell her,
"He hasn't much time.
I'll be home soon." Before you hang up say,
"How could anyone's committment be deeper than
a husband and wife?" Hear her say,
"Please. I don't want to know the details."
When he slips into an irrevocable coma,
hold his lover in your arms while he sobs,
no longer strong. Wonder how much longer
you will be able to be strong.
Feel how it feels to hold a man in your arms
whose arms are used to holding men.
Offer God anything to bring your brother back.
Know you have nothing God could possibly want.
Curse God, but do not
Stare at the face of the funeral director
when he tells you he will not
embalm the body for fear of
contamination. Let him see in your eyes
how much a man can hate another man.
Stand beside a casket covered in flowers,
white flowers. Say,
"Thank you for coming," to each of the several hundred men
who file past in tears, some of them
holding hands. Know that your brother's life
was not what you imagined. Overhear two
mourners say, "I wonder who'll be next?" and
"I don't care anymore,
as long as it isn't you."
Arrange to take an early flight home.
His lover will drive you to the airport.
When your flight is announced say,
awkwardly, "If I can do anything, please
let me know." Do not flinch when he says,
"Forgive yourself for not wanting to know him
after he told you. He did."
Stop and let it soak in. Say,
"He forgave me, or he knew himself?"
"Both," the lover will say, not knowing what else
to do. Hold him like a brother while he
kisses you on the cheek. Think that
you haven't been kissed by a man since
your father died. Think,
"This is no moment not to be strong."
Fly first class and drink Scotch. Stroke
your split eyebrow with a finger and
think of your brother alive. Smile
at the memory and think
how your children will feel in your arms,
warm and friendly and without challenge.
Copyright © 2010 Michael Lassell
The Day George Harrison Died
Grey is the daughter of grieving and whey, which is why it's spelled (contrary to Webster) in the English manner —
with a vowel as empathic as mercy or ease:
Exxon, elephant, elegant/ e-mail, entering, earnestly, eggs.
Grey smells like the smoke off the low-tide Thames,
tastes like riverbanks curdling in an acrid urban breeze,
(the fetid sound of a brackish backwater).
The mud larks will be picking tears out of the mire with their cod heads and penny pieces.
Remember the time by Lake Moraine when a boy whose name
is frequently forgotten — was it David, and something Anglo-Saxon? —
smoked dope and curled in my arms for hours, his granny glasses
clouded over with our shared heat (the misted eyes of a wiser owl who
bids adieu to common knowledge)? —
unless it was a Mersey's idle dream:
dahlia, difficult, dominoes/ dik-dik, diptych, dipstick, dregs.
Some nights there's nothing on cable,
not even the BBC, for which you are paying mucho dinero.
For you, the red, white and blue will always be British:
Bobby blue, hoarfrost white on the morning fields of
Stratford one Thanksgiving Thursday in your youth,
and red phone boxes — or Twizzlers as you wait for a movie
you don't want to see while soggy strangers munch popcorn:
pumping, petticoat, platypus/ primavera, panoply, pegs.
It's because you haven't got a thing to wear
that your peppers failed to germinate;
you can taste your tongue and it's zincky, sour.
"Don't make me take you to church, young man!"
the turbaned Caribbean TV psychic warns.
Her voice is fruity, flutelike, bloated on the fumes of something fishy.
The embrace of leather and absence is that
of a father whose love is late and suspect:
it's as warm as November and as awkward.
I went up to him, once, just pulled his arm and said
"I love you," and he smiled at me, so I kissed his glamorous brocade:
broken, baklava, Benjamin/ bluebottle, blushing, Boston, begs.
(Wee Mickey were the only one who got to call him Geordie.)
Oh, yes, there will be bad hair days to come. Fat days.
Endless afternoons when you haven't got a book to read or
a friend who isn't out of town on some fabulous vacation.
It will be August all year long, insufferable, ad infinitum.
Once again the brutal dove of peace has come to rest
on your frail broad shoulder, and you want to pull the weeping sheets
up to your grizzled chin, hitting the snooze button over and over again
until a sodden supper of takeout sesame chicken:
chuckling, canopy, kaffeeklatsch/ Caspian, canticle, kaffiyeh, kegs.
Not knowing him was the way he loved me.
"Verloren ist das Schlüsselein,"
the unsurprisingly dour day drawls in all
the colors of London's lost Victorian fog.
"Forgotten is the little key," you think to your earlier self,
chilled to the wishbone in the after-opera Berlin snow.
"How can you possibly be bored with all
those toys in your room?" is the echo
choking back from my childhood like
an oily bog that double-troubles up
the clogging pipes of my unscoured sink.
But that's not how you felt, or feel even now, unless
they mean some other kind of bored, like drilled or chewed,
as if you are a bower of trees in the Indonesian
summer, now riddled with the snaking borrows
carved by ravenous maggots (the way you exhausted
would-be lovers with a hunger of your own), and the burly trees are
about to fall, prey to steaming slow disintegration,
fading from proud ebony — erect above the canopy — to ovoid oblivion
crashing in a cloud of ash or slate or charcoal grey no one will hear.
Yet saffron, rarest spice of all, is found in the common crocus flower,
ground from its viscous gold stigmata, where pollen falls to germinate
like dust motes in a shaft of sun on sated lovers' tangled legs.
Copyright © 2010 by Michael Lassell