The Yellow Marrow Doesn’t Matter
BY RACHEL CRUEA
Ohio Northern University, ’17
2016 Adroit Prize for Poetry: Recipient
It’s January now and we didn’t drink enough milk.
It happened so quickly; that calcified knot
caught between red and yellow marrow.
I find you sleeping beneath plastic stars,
feed you pills you can’t keep down. Our mother
wanted to be in Campbell’s soup commercials,
but her hair is turning white and yours is collecting
at the bottom of a drain. She says you became a man
from the bottom up; those fine childhood
waves shaved away, the color so close to mine.
It doesn’t matter; it’s dead no matter where it lays.
I should have watched when you held a bat,
your radiated frame too brittle for another inning.
It should have been me. I gather baseballs forgotten over fences,
unstitch white horsehide to the bone.
This gorgeous, unswerving poem holds great power in its address to an ill sibling. Never florid, never easily sentimental, this poet knows: illness is not grand. Instead, it happens “beneath plastic stars,” with hair “collecting / at the bottom of a drain.” The speaker does not try to save the sibling—that, we know, here, is hopeless. Instead, this becomes a kind of apologia: “I should have watched,” the speaker confesses. “It should have been me.” In the stunning—and heartbreaking—ending, the act of gathering baseballs becomes an act of both reparation and unmaking, unstitching the “white horsehide to the bone.” Is this not what poetry does? May all poems so unstitch the world, carry with them such weight.
-Corey Van Landingham, 2016 Adroit Prize for Poetry Judge