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
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
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
God's idiot angel, I see in your mirror our father
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,
twenty-five thousand dead, thousands more buried alive
beneath the rubble.
The aftershocks continue. We get live footage of a woman in a purple
through her gold-ringed fingers the crumbled concrete
of what were once
the blue-tiled walls of her house. She wails and keeps on
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
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,
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,
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
but still holds the aspen's trembling leaves, the lilacs, you and me,
all passing things.