the_unmystical_joy_of_playing_catch-460x307

I wrote a poem for my brother’s birthday— I thought. Then I reread it and saw it was end-stopped prose, the only virtue of which was knowing that I had written it. There is something mirage-like about seeing your own written work: the familiarity of your authorship whispers assurances of its worth. And then you recognize the shimmering, and you have to decide whether to force yourself to acknowledge the mirage, or double down on the fantasy.

I will fold, this time, and instead tell a story I have never related. My brother was five years behind me at the same private, all boys school I attended. It was a place that cloaked its viciousness in striped ties and maroon blazers. There was a boy in my brother’s class everyone mocked: he wore two large hearing aids, and he was alarmingly unathletic. He struggled, that kid, to carry his books down the jostling stairs, and to navigate the cafeteria line, and to walk through the baseball game in the playground. His name was Eric Jay.

I never did anything to help him. I just watched, saddened; but I never saw overt aggressiveness, just disdain and exclusion, and so I never intervened. I had my own shit to do.

This happened twenty five years ago, and I have never recounted it, so I am struggling with what exactly the event was. Was there a fight, or did the other kids gang up on Eric? I think it was much more subtle— just another day at school. But this day I was standing off to one side, and the kids were teasing their classmate, and he was struggling, cowering maybe, and then I saw my brother go help Eric. Maybe my brother just stood with him for a second, or helped him down the stairs. But he helped a kid who needed it. I never helped Eric Jay, or stood with him, but my brother did.

Catullus and Charles and Eddie fantasize simply about saying hello to their lost brothers. Zbigniew Herbert’s fantasy of connection is indirect, but he too seems to imagine a reunion, one in which the brother has limits to his speech— he tells stories with his hands, touching his brother’s face. I can still say hello to my brother— and I do, I will— but I never say what I should. And that is why I never read “The Rain” without paying abundant tribute: I am the older brother, and like Herbert’s older brother, I can only speak figuratively, with my hands.

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