This is my brother and I when we were little. I was two years old here; he was three-and-a-half. People used to constantly ask my mother if we were twins. I remember this. As we grew, we maddened each other, as siblings so close in age do, but we wouldn’t have known what to do in a world without each other. In high school, we grew close. He was my best friend, and he very much shaped me, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, into the person I am today. Donnie and my high school drama and English lit teacher, rather. They didn’t know I was watching and learning from them how to be a human in this world, but I was. Correction: Donnie knew. I put him on a pedastal too much. But that’s ’cause he was brilliant and talented and funny and clever and quick-witted and he had subtlety in his soul and he was mostly quiet and mysterious and so shy and there was no one else like him and I could go on and on and he was humble about it all. So humble. You wouldn’t even believe.
On this day ten years ago when Donnie was almost thirty, I had to learn what to do in a world without him. I debated whether or not to post a poem in his memory today, because—unfortunately for most of you—-you didn’t know him. You never got to hear him play Recuerdos de la Alhambra*. You didn’t get to hear him play “Freight Train” in the wrong key, which he did when he was first learning guitar — just to make me laugh. You didn’t get to hear his Dirty Old Man voice when he was, like, eight, which used to crack. me. up. You didn’t get to see the lame-tastic short horror film spoof we made with our friends instead of going to prom. You haven’t seen the beautiful drawing he made me as a Christmas gift one year. You didn’t get to hear the remarkably goof-ass—but hysterical, if I may say so myself—-album we made as an ode to our high school French teacher. And you weren’t a member of the Nerd-Sex Club, which we and our friends started in high school, ’cause we were nerds who weren’t having sex and thought, hell, why not have a club and celebrate it.
But I can’t NOT post something ten years later on the day he died. I wish I had buckets of writing talent. I’d write a book about him. I wish I were this clever, silver-tongued poet who could write this remarkable tribute to him or an artist who could make a painting you wouldn’t forget. But I do not possess the former, and I am not either one of the latter. This is not fake modesty: Either you have it, or you don’t. If you don’t, you can always start a blog to talk about the ones who do. And you can post something in your brother’s memory. Just ’cause you can. And because death is “a perverse refusal to come back.”** All we can do is keep remembering.
Mary Oliver happened to write a poem that perfectly captured my brother. Perfectly and completely.
I really miss him and wish my girls knew him, but I’m glad he’s at peace. I hope he’s having a long, worry-free, dreamless rest.
I have been thinking
like the lilies
that blow in the fields.
They rise and fall
in the wedge of the wind,
and have no shelter
from the tongues of the cattle,
and have no closets or cupboards,
and have no legs.
Still I would like to be
as that old idea.
But if I were a lily
I think I would wait all day
for the green face
of the hummingbird
to touch me.
What I mean is,
could I forget myself
even in those feathery fields?
When van Gogh
preached to the poor
of course he wanted to save someone—
most of all himself.
He wasn’t a lily,
and wandering through the bright fields
only gave him more ideas
it would take his life to solve.
I think I will always be lonely
in this world, where the cattle
graze like a black and white river—
where the ravishing lilies
melt, without protest, on their tongues—
where the hummingbird, whenever there is a fuss,
just rises and floats away.
* Here is Some Guy Who Is Not My Brother playing Recuerdos, if you’d like to start out your morning with one of the most beautiful pieces of music in all the world. Really. Truly. You just think you’re in a hurry now, but you know you really want to stop being busy for a moment and just listen to that. It both scatters joy and breaks your heart at the same time. Whenever I see someone play Recuerdos, I can’t believe that all those sounds come out of one instrument. If you can nail it, that is, like Donnie could. And this guy isn’t showing off with his face, which used to get on Donnie’s nerves. The focus is all on the piece. Not the guitarist.
** From the play The Moving of Lilla Barton by John MacNicholas
The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Becky Laney at Becky’s Book Reviews.