Back to Issue Thirty-Four

My Brother Doesn’t Wake Up Wishing We Were Closer


Years I aimed to be, if not beloved,
then necessary: default accomplice

to summer violence, tadpoles shot
along the lake, arrows sinking in soft skulls.

Our parents pandered to his power,
his bored cruelty accepted as a boy’s.

No one was surprised when he left,
but no one could be sure what for:

reckless, premature death, or disappointment
blurring its own shadow. It was June,

the hammock still some distance
from the ground. I believed in that

internal life that silently weaves between two
a kind of due, imagined holding our parents

like unbearable flowers while the years
crept blindly through the garden.

What I believed would have kept me
in a hopeless girlhood. He told me once

about a frat brother in the woods of Virginia
(all had been drinking—no one could say

how he got there) who awoke to a deer
peering over him, steam rising from soft

articulations in its flesh. And he followed
to where nothing was expected, unexpected—

the creek bank, mossy shoulder, all attachment
to plot unreasonable. Years, I mistook

the boy for my brother, palms flat to
the earth to find a trail out of our family.

It was my listening that cost me, hoping
to be heard. My compulsion for the confessor’s

tether, to feel his cool mouth at the shell
of my ear, then to sleep all night in the gossip

of grasses, where the breeze tallied the trees,
and it was possible to wake him.



Late Genesis


Now the earth was full of violence, j-walkers,
sports deities, faces on skin and screens
worshiped evenly.

With everything visible, it was hard
to see the world,

to believe you were another meat.

There was malice, but mostly
a kind of grief.

Leaves on trees but a shiver in the daylight.

Chiefly, it was language
that confounded them—

permafrost suggesting permanence,

not the flux of a fjord,
not the forfeiture.

The people combed for answers
without footprint, ones hedonists
would recognize as relevant,

(these were hung like sneakers from a power line)

but the picture of a polar bear
perched atop an icecap
made everyone feel lonely and unclean.

They wondered such a thing had ever existed,
a knoll of living snow, eyes plucked
from a child’s coat.

                                                    Hadn’t it all
seemed beholden to them? 

Newfoundland to Vancouver,
McClure to Bering Strait.

Noah was 500 when the floods came,
his children—Shem, Ham, Japheth—grown.

All the sons had sons after the flood,
as ice takes its cue from ice

before it ends, in elegant agreement.

Maya C. Popa is the author of American Faith (Sarabande Books, 2019) winner of the 2020 North American Book Prize from the Poetry Society of Virginia. She is the Poetry Reviews Editor of Publishers Weekly and a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she is writing on the role of wonder in poetry.

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