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For My Brother Who Died Before I Was Born

ISSUE:  Autumn 2003

The cornflower Ford is half-sunken into earth, the color of the
crayon. Front bumper knocked in, do you remember the accident?
Inside Mama’s belly, the thick shape of the steering wheel. That
didn’t kill you, no, it must have been the sad smell when you were
emptied into the world. I used to think I’d be a doctor. Then I
walked the silver halls of a hospital, like a cruel rat-maze. If you
were here, I’d tell you books to read like Flowers for Algernon,
like Where I’m Calling From. And maybe you’d listen (unlike the
rest of them), maybe you’d swallow the words.

How many times have you saved my life? How many times have
you killed me? If Daddy spoke truth, you’re the reason for the

“I didn’t know what love was,” he said. Maybe he still doesn’t. But
Mama was beautiful. I look at her through a blue plastic magnifier,
something you hold up to the light. She shimmers in a yellow
bikini, her hair black and slick. Now he finds beauty in other
places, if he finds it at all. Now the sun has gone out of her eyes.
Were you wrapped inside her white dress? Did you kick when
they said “I do?”

Married for a boy who died the same day he was born. Maybe
everything is your fault: Mama dumping armloads of clothes in her
car, leaving that old house and going back to stay with her parents
again, Daddy coming with the Corvette flapping more sleeves,
saying “If you’re going to go, do it right.”

It would all have been prettier if you had lived, or if you never did
exist at all. But then again, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.
They wouldn’t have made it that far. I want to take you in my
arms. I want to teach you things, to take back all those other
things—the Geometry book thrust into Daddy’s crotch, Mama
dropping over in the heavy dining chair after Daddy slapped her
ear. I want to tell you other things like my fascination with the
dangerous girls, my eyes on the brown boys. I want to tell you
who I am and who I wanted to be. I want to lay books of poetry
before you, books about how it feels to live. I want to tell you
things you’d like to know, things that might make you less lonely,
might make you smile or laugh, blush and fall from the sky.


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M.'s picture
M. · 8 years ago

I know I am late- 12 years too late, but I want to tell you this piece means so much to me. As a person who totally relates to ths, I LOVE it and am currently writing a college personal essay about a brother who died before I was born. The difference is that my brother lived 8 years, yours only less than a day. I greatly respect you, and I want to tell you how much this means to me.

Thank you!


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