Aces and Eights

I can't remember when it was we stopped
talking. I know I didn't think of you
this way until much later, the day
I went to collect your clothes. By then
your wife and kids had already left you,
and you, you were an empty apartment filled
with furniture torn from the Sunday Times.
When I opened the closet, your life spilled out:
shirts and ties with silver monograms,
coats of cashmere, wool, and silk,
patent leather shoes buckled with gold plate;
everything you would ever need
for the office or the cruise.

In the fifteen years you took to wind
this costly sheet, I think you knew.
When they cut your stomach out, I knew
you knew. But the glow at the meridian's lip
was better by far than its dark, pointless center.
So you steered out against the odds,
against the evidence, as the emptiness you turned
away from ate outward toward your clothes.
I gave them to the priest.

That was two days after we buried you.
It's now twelve years, and more than thirty
since Father died. We put you on top
of each other, which even now seems right.
Back then, you begged him, or God, for light
but only found night after night the latticed shadow
of your childish fists clenched in prayer.
Still, you carried it like a dark candle
cupped within your brilliant sleights of hand:
that empty palm was your truth, the cards,
as you might have said, that were dealt.

That year was the bicentennial. For no reason
everyone began a public celebration.
Soldiers, ending their long shame, once again
marched the street with flags and guns;
old ships sailed in and out of the harbor;
and you, having slipped the moorings
of your thirty-six years, became a wake,
a slight tremor on the bright, reflecting water,
that, then and now, trails across my mirror.

 

for my brother, 1940-1976

 

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