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My Brother's Mirror

Donald Platt
At eight years old my brother born with Down syndrome
		liked to shuffle
down the sidewalk holding our mother's hand mirror

		in which he'd watch
what was happening behind him.  What did he see so long ago?
		Me on a butterfly-handlebarred

bike, which he would never learn to ride, about to run him down,
		shouting, "Look out,
slow poke!  Make way, bird brain!  Think quick, fat tick!"

		I would swerve
around him at the last moment.  He gazed back at me with blank
		cow eyes and couldn't

speak.  He warbled like a sparrow, drooled, and went on
		looking
in his mirror.  Did he see the wind shake the lilacs

		by our neighbor's hedge
back and forth like handbells?  They kept ringing out their sweet
		invisible scent.

Peals of petals fell to the ground.  "Look harder, Michael,"
		I want to tell him now.
"Your namesake is an archangel.  Do you see Kathy, our beautiful

		babysitter, who will
kill herself years later with sleeping pills, waving her white dishtowel
		to call us home

to supper?"  She once caught me lying on the floor and trying
		to look up the dark folds
of her schoolgirl's wool skirt and slapped me.  But don't we all 

		walk forward, gazing backward 
over our shoulders at the future coming at us from the past like a hit-and-run
		driver?  Michael,

God's idiot angel, I see in your mirror our father
		yanking out
the plugs of all the TVs blaring the evening news

		on his nursing home's
locked ward for the demented.  He hates the noise, the CNN reporters
		in Bam, Iran,
 
covering yesterday's earthquake, 6.6 on the Richter scale,
		twelve seconds,
twenty-five thousand dead, thousands more buried alive

		beneath the rubble.
The aftershocks continue.  We get live footage of a woman in a purple
		shawl, sifting

through her gold-ringed fingers the crumbled concrete
		of what were once
the blue-tiled walls of her house.  She wails and keeps on

		digging.
This morning I dreamed that I was building an arch
		from pieces of charred 

brick I'd found in that debris.  It was complete except for
		the keystone,
but no brick would fit.  What I needed

		was our father
to put his splayed fingers into the fresh mortar where the keystone
		should have gone

and leave his handprints there, so I might put my palms to his.  
		Brother, I held your hand
for the first time last winter.  Your fingers were warm,

		rubbery.
The skin on the back of your hands was rough and chapped.
		They are the same fingers

that weave placemats from blue wool yarn every day,
		slowly passing
the shuttle over and under the warp, its strands stretched tight

		as the strings of a harp.
It's a silent slow music you make.  It takes you	
		weeks to weave

a single placemat.  Brother, you dropped the hand mirror.
		It cracked, but didn't
shatter.  It broke the seamless sky into countless

		jagged splinters,
but still holds the aspen's trembling leaves, the lilacs, you and me,
		all passing things.

From Dirt Angels by Donald Platt. Copyright © 2009 by Donald Platt. Used by permission of New Issues Poetry & Prose, Western Michigan University. All rights reserved.

Donald Platt