Poetry Friday: Lilies

h1 July 17th, 2009 by jules

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
about living
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 wonderful

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.

28 comments to “Poetry Friday: Lilies”

  1. That was really really beautiful.

  2. Beautiful tribute to Donnie, Jules. Every bit of it — the poem, the guitar solo, and your heartfelt words and memories have helped me to know him a little better. The photo speaks volumes. Thanks for sharing him with us today. ((hugs))

  3. I beg to differ…you *are* a silver-tongued poet because for a brief moment, the breath of your words on your memory of your brother made the flame of his life glow just a little for me, who never knew him.

    For you, I’m sure these yearly remembrances are all the more glorious (and consequently, painful).

    Thank you for sharing with us, for reminding us to savor small moments with those we love who will someday be lost to us, for showing us the power and longevity of love…and of loving grief.

    I’ll add to Jama’s: ((hugs))

  4. Love Mary Oliver’s poetry, Jules. With this selection of hers, accompanied by the Recuerdos, that photo, and your sweet words, I guarantee you’ve managed to touch the heart of any guy with a younger sister. Thanks so much for sharing all this today.

  5. Beeeeautiful. My goosebumps aren’t going away.

  6. Thank you for this post.

  7. Sweet Julie – you underestimate yourself and your writing prowess. I have a tear in my eye as I type this. I think you’ve beautifully described the things about Donnie that we all loved the most. I will always feel blessed to have had him in my life…but I’ll also be sad and a little bit angry that we didn’t get to see each other turn into old, grown-up nerds. Crap. I can’t stop crying. I love you so much.

  8. This is the most beautiful tribute I have ever read, Jules. Your memories and all the love you feel for your brother has brought Donnie to life for all of us. Thank you for giving us a part of him today. I know he must be SO proud of you, and for the goodness you bring to everyone who reads this blog (especially today). You have more than buckets of writing talent – you have the poet’s heart.

  9. Hey….. that was beautiful. 🙂

  10. What a beautiful and touching tribute to your brother, Jules~

  11. I don’t even know you, let alone your brother, but whenever you post something remembering him, I feel like I do. The Marie Howe poem you posted a while back? Oh man.

  12. Hugs to you, Jules. Remembering is good, and hard, and good.

  13. Oh, and that is an awesome picture. I want to pick the both of you up and squeeze you, you’re so cute.

  14. that was beautiful and from the heart. He was so blessed to have you as a sister as you were to have him as a brother. Hope you had a soft day

  15. There’s something about that picture, with the two of you listening to something the rest of us can’t hear, that almost makes the rest of this post extraneous. Almost. Because that poem is hauntingly beautiful, and that piece of music could have broken my heart all by itself if the rest of your words hadn’t already done it. I wish I could say something to make this day easier for you. All I know is that you are the strongest, purest, most silver-tongued sister who ever lived; and if he’s the reason you became the human-in-this-world you are, then we all owe him big.

  16. what a lovely rememberance; the life memories and poem. Thinking of all of you.

  17. Jules,

    Thank you so much for such beautiful and moving images of both you and your brother. Seeing him through your eyes, it is obvious he was a talented, warm and wonderful person, just as it is obvious that you are too.

    That quote alone had me in tears, nevermind the poem and the music. Thank you for being such a bright light in the world.

  18. What a moving tribute you have composed here…the photo, the poem, the music and your flowing, eloquent words of love. Thank you for sharing your brother with us today.

  19. Somewhere Donnie is smiling over this. It was a really wonderful tribute. Lovely photo, lovely music, exceptionally lovely poem.

    Hugs to you.

  20. I hadn’t heard that music before – thank-you for sharing and encouraging us to stop and listen. Like everyone else has said, this post is a beautiful and loving tribute to your brother.

  21. Julie, I have come to know and love your brother over the years from my cherished relationship with your mom. I feel even more connected to him after reading this SO loving tribute from you. He was an awesome and talented young man in so many ways. I know he will live in your heart and soul forever. Ruth

  22. There’s a hymn, a very old one, that picture brings to mind. The gist of the words paints the picture of people on earth hearing a “song of heaven and homeland through doors God leaves ajar.”

    The Recuerdos was almost too much to listen to, but I heard in it, and in your words about your brother, that piece of heaven and homeland. Thank you for sharing him every year.

  23. Jules-yes it was beautiful and moving. But what impressed me the most was your courage in making that public, which
    brings us all into a very private space of love, anger, faith, fear, and memory. Brings us in, and lets us see your brother through the camera of your heart.

  24. Thank you to all…

  25. Tears on my eyes and smile in my soul. You will not undestand my blog but I offer you the photo posted friday (in portuguese: Sexta-feira) the 17Th, I love the light. You are in my links ( “gosto á sĂ©ria de me cruzar com” means is wonderfull to meet..)

  26. * HUG *

    Jules, thank you so much for sharing that beautiful picture with Donnie and for sharing your beautiful memories of him. He sounds amazing. But I’m not surprised. I think it’s genetics. :o)

    * HUG *

    P.S. I think making a short horror film spoof instead of going to prom is the coolest thing ever!

  27. Thanks for this exquisite offering, Jules.

  28. Julie,You are such an amazing poet and sister.I loved you poem.Thank you for sharing so many of your wonderful memories of Donnie. I know he was a brillant and talented young man.I so loved going out on my deck when I heard him playing his guitar. I could have sat there all day and night listening to his beautiful music.I think of him every time I walk out on my deck and look across the yard at your old home.

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