My Brother Doesn’t Wake Up Wishing We Were Closer
BY MAYA C. POPA
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.
BY MAYA C. POPA
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.