Night Night Little Brother
Sunday after late-night hockey bliss, I drive in my old
beater past little brother drunk on the winter
streets in his bare feet with a strip of carpet
wrapped around his ears. I park and follow and find
him hunkering under the expressway viaduct clacking
his teeth at that black butterfly that keeps
reproducing inside his chest. He's above that river
of metallic fish that swish and wheel past. He's
telling the river, maybe this time he'll spread his
arms like one of those butterflies and leap.
We drive home and I ease back in the television's hum
trying not to knot up into a fist, but lay my body
out, palm it out for him to touch. Only he gets too
close with his knives in his beard and yellow teeth, and
knuckle rubs my cheek. I foot piston pump him back
and he crashes into our father's trophy case--night night
little brother, rock-a-bye that John Elway football
encased in glass, and head noggin against the wall.
Why'd he make me do that to my little brother?
I'm backpedaling my mouth from his rising up
snarling, all veins in his neck and fangs and breath.
I'm trying to kiss my little brother with my open
hands. Kiss the gallows in his face melting down
around his cheekbones, melting down into a hideous
mask. Youngest little brother they think is oldest
brother in the kitchen now tossing whiskey bottles
down the basement staircase.
Bedtime now, I drop my arms when he sidles up and
grabs my face with both hands. I take his whiskery
kiss and climb the steps and say goodnight. I rock my
lantern back and hide my own bottle under my bed, a
horrible boat marooned on its side. I press my ear
against the mattress listening for down-below brother,
while my bottle keeps whispering, crawl out from under
the covers, crawl on out and give me a kiss.
My brother rockets off in a customer's car with his
three DWIs in hand. He might be out there killing
someone or dying, but God forgive me I give in to the
whisper, swing my arm underwater, lift that boat to my
mouth and drink. I rise to plant my bare feet in the
mud beside my bed and sit in the sidelong haze of that
streetlight sizzling like an olive in a Martini glass.
I lean on the wall near the window and face the
concrete, breathe through my own skin crossing the
earth blowing back gum wrappers and whistling inside
all those bottlenecks trying to find little
brother. I'm trying to find that boy gone man gone
dark, peel him down to the skin in those boy pictures,
that skin so bright and clean back then.
Next day through the papery walls that cry like some
wolf being ripped in half is little brother.
Alive, he's alive, I think, then plant my feet in the
mud beside my bed and rise up. Again that cry from
the room where father and I pour whiskey
bottles onto the floor an inch away from my brother's
outstretched tongue. That cry from the rock bottom-room
little brother swaddles up in his arms
like some tarry treasure and he hauls it wherever he
You should find Rybicki; he preaches on street corners all over the world.
Drop a crumb of bread into his cup. Rip a page of your own song out of your
pocket and knock him off that milk crate he's standing on. If someone
nearby is smacking dice against the curb, rattle and then sprinkle a handful
of glass across the street. Tell them all it's some lost language. Use the
streetlight if you have to, some interrogation lamp, so long as it shines.