By Edward Butscher

Now, “Which hand holds the brother?”

–Simon Perchik

Near Troy, Catullus addressed

his brother’s dumb remains

with a liar’s lyric measures

as if a poet’s polished tears

could fertilize foreign soil

or spur a giant wooden horse

to again glisten and gallop

heaving flanks into a fall sun.


His ashes arrived in my absence

from California’s Italian shore

(coffined in an urgent red, white,

and blue carton), now brooding

near a dust-draped television altar,

far smaller than the boy I relive

with a ragged bundle of images

lashed together by the phone

line of our last conversations

while he was sleeping in parks

and cardboard bonus-army shacks.


When Dali doubles our vision

with his crafty bifocal portrait

of a dead brother, construed

at a safe distance from dervish

shapes of a growing desert force


beauty is entwined twin

strands braiding an infinity

that can never be combed free

of blood-bloated language lice.


He looked like neither of his

older brothers, nor anyone else

in the broken family rosary.

Pious Aunt Mabel suspected


an upside-down stomach clinic

doctors denied, his birth mark

(a dime of temple baldness)

echoing pursed lips as he sat

in the lap of Macy’s Santa Claus


or posed, snowsuit-squat, near

the candy-store rifled for friends.


Orphan of an insane mother

and a father’s drunken flights

he had a salesman’s smiling guile

baby-faced and babied by a senile

Nana whose death completed him:


uncoiled helix of a human genome

that slithers through millenniums

of fires, storms, and retreating ice

with the caginess of a petted asp,

flying at a queen’s naked throat

offered up as freely as two aunts’

refusals to press charges when he

emptied hearts and bank accounts.


At the end, after nursing two sisters

(tied into a single stick by reflex love

and eroded bodies), he headed west

to be shed of the avengers stalking

him in Flushing, a good boy at last.


I imagine heart beats of water beads

like stars in locket waves unleashed

by a beautiful young woman above

the clenched jaws of a marble mask

that abandons me to heal her self

and avatars of the brother I house.


Laid side by side under concrete

slabs in the village near the Oise,

Vincent and Theo defy fiery wheat

fields of crows and cypress torches

as a melting gold watch palpitates

the midnight noon of my conceit

where I bid them all ave, ave, ave.


Edward Butscher is the author of first biographies of Sylvia Plath and Conrad Aiken, as well as shorter books on Adelaide Crapsey and Peter Wild, much criticism, and several books of poems, most recently, Eros Descending.

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