Aeschylus, mourning his brother

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Brother, are we known yet
by our scars?
or by the small voices we have raised to hearten
others to taste these small morsel’d words?

yes, we have been forged by the same gods
who choose us, and now we are
purged of our tender meekness,
we are surely due our conceits
leading so purely from Prometheus’ dim breath

why should we, I ask,
still fear these lesser gods who cheer us 
our each broken bitter step,
they
mock us
with their effete threats,
deny us dance and music and verse,
and of the fruit that was never meant for us

for all their piety,
they drink, perhaps, or tempt us with 
their envenomed chalice,
and sing with us
and fight with us;
are we to become their tarnished adornments
as they witness our foulest desires? 

we swallow each of our solitary breaths
and we, breathless, exclaim a certain cowardice
t’wards death.
No, I plead, not that least deed,
No, my brother, you are not that man

brother, with each considered step taken
I beg you, please awaken
now
as I stretch my limbs upon this planked stage,
to bleed, to serve our noble philosophies –
these badly displayed indignities
of heroes, of men, as common as we,
to remind them that
we are too mortal, and such tragedy befalls us by
failing
against
our common foes:
ourselves, our gods, our fate to witness  
our weary’d children watch us fail,
our swords not doused with our antagonists’ blood,
to beg great Victory
to kiss us quickly, each of us,
even in defeat as
we will timely lose to death’s fevered rages

but, brother, who will call another actor
to calm these words
to step between the worlds and
to petition the rages of the chorus?

is this us, brother,
can this be us?
What do they say of us
that we have not heard?
Our tragedy will be told
tenfold as I grow older and you do not,
the things that they say of us
that we have not already heard of us

we are celebrated in the Ancient City now,
more well-spoken than before,
the costumed ghosts speak to me deliberately they
speak to me eloquently they
speak to me and they

all wear your voice.

oh brother, Euripides has not forgotten us.
He implores me to tell more tales
but I fear there are no more.
I have left Marathon behind me
and the Furies have brought me to this place.
May murder and devastation
Never come to tear this city, I said with all my truth.
Ah, but a tired man can be forgiven in time
for his ignorance and his youth.
We both know the Eleusinians were wrong,
we have that to enjoy between us.

oh my good brother,
Gela has called my name.

brother, are we known yet
by our scars?
I have not heard from you lately
and I know we have each traveled far.

, published on 08 March 2015 under the following license: CC BY-NC-SA

Old warhorses

He and I, we simply align ourselves
at opposite ends of a path.

We disguise ourselves as amiable strangers
(though I would know him better if I asked).

The pain of his gist was his least obvious gift,
and a profoundness shortly occurred to me.

Pulling his legs from the clay field drifts,
with sensitive voice, he shortly demurred to me:

“In my sorrowed mind, I wander blithely
around my own mangled tale,
writhing between eloquence and ignorance
— to what avail?

“I wash all my scars until the old blood runs fresh.
and the longitude and latitude shudders my flesh.
I tinker with the dams that hold back my prose,
shocking my ears from so many sharp blows.

“And you, sir, you stand there, unequivocally calm,
my heart blisters over, and you hear it as balm.
My travails and hardships leave your disposition unchanged:
surely he exaggerates, or in the least is deranged!

“I assure you, good sir, my story is as plain as I say,
that I tell it so simply, I can say without shame.
Though we each cross these meadows in slow studied gaits,
I appreciate your pass on my way to my hay.”

I confess, my transgression was not meant as aggression,
and I mumbled my apology through quivering lips.
Alas, no begrudges as we partook our bucket lunches,
we reared to dislodge each rider from our hips.

Your father’s Delta 88

action-asphalt-auto-racing-automobile-1456011

We follow the fragrance of the river
in your father’s 
Delta 88.
With the windows rolled down 
we drift on an old stone road 
and watch the
eddies pull quilt-shaped flowers 
along their creases, 
folding them, unfolding them, 
pressing their petals into wine.

You said you saw thrushes rise
from the pecan trees, 
their voices reciting
proverbs 

if we could know them, you said, 
if we could believe them, you said,
we would be home.

You drove us to a place
where you hoped we would be blessed
where we could be remembered
for more than your father’s 
Delta 88
but we are
as forgettable as anyone, you said,
simple pencil drawings
pushed along the paper
then erased in increments
and folded into boxes.

Photo by George Sultan from Pexels

The birds

bird-birds-animal-bill

I did not think I would reach the age
where a decent 12-year-old single malt
would be considered
a regrettable choice.
I thought by now
I would be reading Chaucer,
maybe listening to an opera or two.
My second ex-wife says Pucccini is good,
though he’s no Frankie Sinatra.

Now I stand before this mess,
examining the sodium content
of my boil-in-a-bag chow mein.

Today I fed the last of my muffaletta bread
to the last of the winter sparrows
assembled in the Radio Shack parking lot.
There’s free parking around back
if you can navigate
between the crates of broken gin bottles
and plastic bits of modem.
The birds don’t seem to mind
the evaporation stains.

They leave wormy puddles on my door mat
when they come to regurgitate
breakfast to their scuttling chicks.
They don’t even try to aim anymore,
they’re like the tenured drunks
who fly to the urinals at Giuseppe’s Taproom
because because because because because
pissing on your pant cuffs is the secret code
that you’ve given up on the things
that make faith your last resort.

I did not think I would reach the age
where I would sit beside serious women
in a skatepark.
They wear the colors of homemade knit blankets
foaming across their laps,
and they carry pretzels in their purses to pass
to the finches flickering around that
lone
hibiscus
tree
with the petals blowing
onto the quarter pipe.
They share a flask of bourbon and tea,
and, yes, they are more interesting
than the rubber-boned 12-year-olds
still learning to appease the laceration gods.

Some of us never grow away from our choices.

(photo from Pexels.com)

Fifty-four years following an unfinished burial

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I.

The pigweed is choking out the old summer garden, 
and these morning glories have finally figured out 
the shortest distance between the dirt 
and the kitchen floorboards. 
 
The family pictures, all gone 
except for this one of Henry leaning against 
Mister Sam’s blue Chevrolet Coupe. 
You can see cousin Laurel’s shadow falling
across the patch of dandelions beside his boot,
him with a grin, and 
her, well, I don’t know
what happened  to her,
no one ever said whether living or dead.
 
That picture slipped behind the pantry shelves
and no one noticed it missing
for almost 60 years. 
Henry died back in ‘62. 
 
Spring, 1973,
another twister shredded 
the porch and the backyard tool shed. 
No one was hurt but 
for the way we thought about things.
We stayed on that particular patch of land.
Where else would we go? 
What else did we have?
 
Youngest brother Davy lost to lung cancer 
back in ‘89,
sister Marlene broke her hip down cellar
and it grew a blood clot, early winter, 2003. 
Mom, bless her heart, heart attack at 52, 
Dad, soon after that, broken-hearted 
and emphysema, 55.
And the rest that was left, cousins
and further-back kin,
well, they drifted away, you know, 
they just drifted apart.
 
There is no real hole in the moon
when it hoists itself up as a curled pale shaving,
it is the illusion of its incompleteness 
that sets your mind to doubt.

II.

Me and Lucille, we are the last ones. There is a particular sorrow in saying, ‘Remember Cousin Muriel?’ because no one does. Loo’s memory is fading, and I am right behind her. The years, you know, they pile one atop the other until the weight closes the lid. 

“They drift, honey,” Loo says, reading my mind again. “The memories, they drift like leaves, out of order, random as curtains. Sure, I remember Muriel.”

We are lying in bed, hearing/not hearing the oscillating fan that escorts us to sleep, thick family quilts piled by our feet, sardine-colored light pouring through venetian blinds. It is my turn to cook breakfast, but the floor is still cold, and I can see every word of our conversation turn to vapor. 

“I remember Muriel,” she says, and she squeezes my hand.

III.

Said my Loo: She was a very pale girl, short brown hair. Mousy hair.

I remember her lipstick, said I, what color would you call it? Brown?

Some kind of maroon, I think. It was an ugly color. Muriel introduced us, you and me, do you remember that? You were frightened of her, and that made me laugh. I don’t know why, because she scared me too. You lived just past the four-way stop, where it turned into Baltimore Road, and I spoke to you for the first time at church. You were quite a bit older.

I was two years older, Loo.

But I was a girl, she said. Two years is a lot at that particular age. 

Go on about Muriel. How did you know her?

Oh, said Loo, she sometimes taught Sunday school class, whenever Miss Barbara was ill. Her voice was so deep, like quarry water. She scared most of the girls, but she had a look in her eyes, a bedevilled look, like everything was a clever joke she constructed.

She was oddly built, I said. And her voice did come from her feet.

But she could recite those passages like she meant them. She could have become a preacher, in a different time.

And did she?

Did she what, dear?

Did she believe what she read, the gospels and the epistles, the psalms and the songs?

I don’t know, said Loo. I know she cursed when she was angry, which was often. Such vile words.

I remember her funeral, I said. It was an odd thing. It was so quiet until near the end of the service. You could barely hear the preacher speak.

No, wait, said Loo. I remember that, too.

Remember? Someone from town noticed she had been buried in the wrong plot.

They put her beside your cousin Henry, was that it?

Henry was not kin, I said. I’m not sure of his distinction. He was a friend of cousin Laurel, I think. Henry died the year before. Scarlet Fever? I know that Muriel was afraid of him, she made mention of it to everyone. No one ever explained to me why she was afraid of him. Oh, what a foolish mistake that was, burying her in the wrong spot. It made the whole thing feel so unfinished. I was twelve years old, and even I knew it was a bad thing.

Did they ever move her to a different spot?

No, I said. It would take too long, and cause too much sorrow for the family to go through it again. The church planted a rosebush between the two plots as a compromise, but the roses always died. In time, everyone who attended the funeral passed, or forgot, or stopped caring. Because that all happened in the old century, you know.

Just like us, said Loo, rather bitterly. From the old century. And then she smiled. But we still remember, don’t we, Charlie?

For now, I answered. This damn room isn’t getting any warmer. You want your eggs scrambled or over-easy this morning?

Oh, honey, you know how I like them. I trust you.

IV.

Take a look at this picture. It was taken by someone I don’t remember, of someone whom I can barely recall. But I remember the event, the time of day, the slant of the sun, the sound of the bees surrounding the morning glories, the smell of the illicit beer on Henry’s breath, my father laughing behind me, my mother watching through the kitchen window, and I remember my cousin Laurel sliding away from the camera. She was a shy girl.

Mister Sam drove his brand new Coupe straight onto our lawn, and he parked it beside the side porch. My father loved the lines of that car, coveted it for himself, and wanted a chance to drive it. The car was beyond his means, but he didn’t hold it against Mister Sam. They were friends.

Someone pulled out their box camera, Henry stepped in front before anyone was ready for a formal shot, and the picture was taken.

But look closely. Focus in on the shadow that leans into the dandelions by Henry’s foot. There is a second shadow intersecting the primary one. It belongs to me, reaching for a kiss from Laurel. She was trying to move away from me, and her shadow bumped into the portrait. She was afraid of me. It wasn’t my first attempt at a kiss. And she wasn’t the only cousin from whom I attempted one.

“Don’t,” she said, and then she ran away. She didn’t say anything when I met up with her later, when we were alone.

I have lost my dear Lucille, and my heart grows more weary with each step I take towards her stone. We were the last of our time, me and Loo, and now I’m the last. I will lay roses on her grave every day until I am unable, and hope they will survive me. She is the only one I need to remember.

It is the illusion of my completeness that sets my mind to doubt.

(photo from Pexels.com)

Unintentional harm

There was a bruise on her thigh
the size of my eager young thumb,
the shape and color of a cat’s serving of
Neapolitan ice cream.
It was not my intention to cause her such a harm,
but it was the mark of my drowning eagerness for her,
a thoughtless expression of my wretched rawness.

I did kiss her quick,
a slight sweep upon her hip,
my lips a light touch upon her caramel skin.
She did not flinch or brush me away,
and in her eyes I saw a reflection of myself:
ragged, thin, braced against a cracked nighttime window
framing my narrow frame into a surprising self-portrait.

And I, unexpected, delivered her no preach of the affection
she had overwhelmed in me.
She poured over my every pore,
and my thirst for her was abated, though my heart was dispirited
that I caused her even this unintentional harm.

Soft brick window wells

do they still hold sleepovers
behind the textile plant,
on those burned-out chesterfields and
the la-z-boys with the brown foam
spilling out of the arms,

and do the bricks still smell like homemade
Portuguese wine
and wet takeout cartons

are the psalms still written on the plywood windows,
random angry verbs and treatises on
Vietnamese honey bees, and
big-G Gods and little-g goddamn ex-wives,
it’s all there, Mister Tinn, a written history
of living drunk on lower Caraway Street

but do you know what it is,
what it really is,
it’s all hidden in the uncomplicated folds of
the fabric of her skirt
like laurel leaves
under my fingers
that certain shade of green
and that certain breath she held
when she saw me approach her
and then

leave
and I’m

flicking cigarette butts into
coffee cans and soft brick window wells
clotted with three years worth of dead leaves
and I’m hoping
maybe something will ignite

and hey, there’s the new kid Carlos explaining again
the harmony of Samdhana yoga
to those with no fucking flexibility, he says
there was too much oneness between the sangria and his breath
when he tried his Yin posture on his teacher and her husband
swore he would beat the living shit out of him
if he tried that kind of

harmony
again

so do you think maybe he’s old enough
to end up dying here
with the rest of us