On the April Anniversary of My Brother’s Death
I. With pink fuzz on his anus and peach hair on his penis and forearms, my brother was sent underground with a Sony Walkman still reeling a mix tape of Janet Jackson, Meatloaf and Paula Abdul. The same mix tape I strapped to his ears during the last month he was in a coma. Also the baseball he used in Little League before his knees wobbled and collapsed. And his ’86 Mets jersey with Daryl Strawberry’s number on it:18. The last full year he was alive. The Hofstra University newspaper clipping where he wrote his first sports article, and a scrap of paper with scrawled names and numbers of girlfriends he would never have. Could we also add my father’s rage and shame at his son’s condition, or my mother’s hand, severed and screaming with a diamond still on its ring finger? His dead rag of lung hung in a bucket in the rain. I know why he went mad before the surgery. He stared all day at the TV in his wheelchair while my parents sobbed and chewed their knuckles. My parents wrangled him into the chairlift each night, hoisting him from toilet to bed to wheelchair and back. The knob on his wheelchair was fat in his palm like an alabaster spider. When it started crawling, he couldn’t find his way back. II. When he was 7, I pushed him down in the yellow grass and called him Ducky, wet stains on the rump of his jeans. I was hanging upside down on narrow bar on our backyard swing set, tasting my own cruelty like a new flavor of gum and it was bitter steel. Steel like the rod contoured to his spine to correct the scoliotic deformity of the disease. My heart was the aluminum of the motorized wheelchair frame, all metal and whispers. III. At 17, my parents sent me to the Midwest for college so I could be as far away as possible from the pain but I carry the pain within me every day like a tracking device. The leaves of spring pluck their brows and eat the breath of grieving stars. IV. What kind of sound will emerge from the dead when the music stops? The doctor of death aka the premiere orthopedic surgeon at Yale University Hospital breathes more heavily than usual. The surgery was absolutely necessary, he articulates in his padded office, paging through album after shiny album of successful outcomes – polaroids of smiling kids and teens in wheelchairs with only a few months left to live. I did the best I could. but his body couldn’t handle it. But why doesn’t he look sorry? You took a chance but you didn’t win. How do you classify the outcome when the operation is successful but the patient dies? Don’t despair. It’s spring. The florid April day emerges as an afterthought or counterpoint to our losses. V. I wanted to bind his legs with blankets. I wanted to shave his head. I wanted to build a canoe to carry him down the Hudson on his final journey. The metronomical pump of the ventilator competes with the rhythm of water. And I can still taste the formaldehyde on his gassy smile, sham and triumphant on a satin pillow. VI. I grieve for your bedroom door plastered with baseball pennants. Your mouth opens, but it has no tongue. There will be no funeral. There will be no more gatherings of any kind. I grieve for the sun you’re not able to feel on your face.