I’m tiring of confinement – this place filling
of connections. They are spilling
on the deck and out the front door
to go smoke, they are cluttering
the booths and barstools, making it impossible to move.
Bartender knows my name
and my lungs begin to feel under water,
there are more than three of us at the table.
My friend tells a hilarious story
about a double date she and her boyfriend went on
with her sister and suddenly everyone has a story
about their sister or brother or not having one – hilarious
or cute, or they say Don’t you have a brother?
I never went on a double date with my brother
never had a heart-to-heart about our feelings
or family or favorite food, we never had
inside jokes or outside
contact. I pretend to forget him
and he embarrassed me by remembering
my name in public because he had nothing to lose
and he wanted half of my good fortune and to see me crash.
They continue their stories and it is not just brothers
and sisters. It is mothers who hum Baby Got Back
while they clean, it is fathers who shave their legs on a dare,
it is cousins who failed math twice but teach math now
and grandparents who repeat stories
about the day they met Gordie Howe.
For them, life has been a web of connections
for me, life has been a collection of sensory neurons.
They have been hugged, gathered, and imprinted.
I have fallen down the stairs and hidden.
They say, Don’t you have a brother?
and I remember the fire he almost started
the church he broke into, remember the way we fought
over food and the radio – not yelling, screaming
and sent to time out, but a punch to the nose
or boot to the mouth and there’s nobody to tell but
nobody. I still see the scar from where he burned me
with the curling iron. I’d reminded him
he was a stupid dick and he disagreed. I still see him
sitting in the mental hospital with drool slipping
from his lips.
That was the closest I’ve ever felt to him.
I say this with a long silence
to their question.
Sometimes they complain
about their families, the extended
relatives that annoy,
or the mother who insists on a nightly text.
Growing up, they felt drowned
and I felt suffocated by open air.
I live in the spare room in my fiancé’s parents’ house. I put my shampoo and conditioner in the bathtub next to his. Every day when I get in to take a shower, it has been buried in the back of the cabinet again.
shampoo slathers slick
bubbles smell like strawberries
and burning bridges
I wish I could have folded my body into my junior high gym locker. I wish I could have made myself some secret escape to the field of flowers. I wish the shorts had been longer than a dollar bill’s width and that the man-coach would have stood at our heads.
wait for the late bell
water only feels good when
We sleep in an apartment that is burned on the inside, the living room like toast, every smell choking me so I spend every day outside and only come inside at night to share a charred bed, our own blanket beneath us, torn in the most familiar ways, silky borders ripped like a hiding place.
mother turned the knob
let the remaining water
baptize me in ash
Why My Brother Doesn’t Work
Work doesn’t work when his brain won’t sit
straight and still and even like a lake not an ocean
of depth and pull, where he can get lost
in his plans for the pit of dirt in the backyard
or distracted by what his daughter said
because she is a part of himself he loves
without question or apology, the rest is hating
medication, the rest is side effects and sleeping.
His wife is perfect for him –
she delivered a milkshake
to his face one day in a diner, one mad day
and he threatened to die if she left him
and he cut his wrists.
and she stayed.